Irish Roots

August 16th, 2010

John Grenham

A common research disappointment for descendants of Irish migrants is the scarcity of migration records and the almost complete lack of departure records in Ireland itself. There are a number of straightforward reasons for this lack. Then, as now, the authorities were more interested in keeping tabs on entries into their territory than departures, so any records that do exist tend to be found in the ports of arrival. Less obviously, many of the arrival points of Irish migrants were not truly international. Britain and Ireland were part of the same country, the United Kingdom, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand were part of a very tightly integrated British Empire. Of the major destinations, only the US was truly a foreign country, and indeed the best collections of passenger lists and immigration records are in the US. (An excellent overview of these records is at Joe Beine’s genealogybranches.com.)

Because there are so few arrival records, researchers tend to overlook Canada when seeking records of trans-Atlantic migration. But precisely because it was part of the Empire, passage was easier and cheaper than to the US, and many of the most desperate and destitute went to Canada and then crossed the land border south. Large numbers of Irish in the US mid-west, in Michigan,Wisconsin and Illinois, arrived overland from Canada rather than through US ports, for example.

The good news is that, apart from arrival records, there are some excellent free online research resources for migrants to Canada. An overall guide is at tinyurl.ie/0qj. Library and Archives Canada have a good collection of databases at tinyurl.ie/0qk, including a superb compendium of sources covering the notorious quarantine station at Grosse Isle. Some provincial archives are also very good: Prince Edward Island (tinyurl.ie/0qf, and islandregister.com) New Brunswick (tinyurl.ie/0qg) , Nova Scotia (tinyurl.ie/0qh), and Quebec (tinyurl.ie/0qi).

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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