March is Irish-American Heritage Month, but for many Americans with Irish ancestry, tracing family lines back to Ireland can be difficult. Take a lack of Irish genealogical records and add an abundance of individuals with the same name, and you have an almost certain recipe for hitting that infamous brick wall. If traditional genealogical records haven’t turned up the answers you’re looking for, newspapers can be another avenue to explore.
Many people’s first step when using newspapers for family history is to search for the names of their ancestors. Newspapers.com is especially helpful when it comes to searching for individuals, as our search filters for date, location, and more make narrowing down your results easier than ever.
But what if your ancestor’s name doesn’t turn up in a newspaper search? Or what if you can’t be sure that the Michael Kelly you found mentioned in a newspaper is actually the Michael Kelly you’re related to? One of the wonderful things about newspapers is that they can help you learn about your ancestor’s life even if you don’t find them mentioned by name.
Here are 3 ways you can use newspapers to learn about your Irish immigrant ancestors.
1. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestor’s life back in Ireland.
Understanding what conditions were like in Ireland at the time your ancestors immigrated may help you understand why they left.
A good place to start is by looking at Irish newspapers. Newspapers.com currently has more than a dozen Irish papers, primarily from Dublin but encompassing some other counties as well. We also have papers from Northern Ireland. Publication years for our papers from both these areas range from the late 18th to the late 19th century.
So if your ancestors were living in Ireland during that time, try browsing one of these newspapers to read articles and see ads showing what life was like back then. Find out about conditions for tenant farmers, learn what the Irish were saying about the issue of home rule, and much more. You can also look through our collection of newspapers from England, as they also commonly carried news from Ireland.
One of the primary reasons immigrants left Ireland was the Potato Famine, which lasted roughly 1845 to 1849. If your ancestors were in Ireland during this devastating time, learning about this tragedy can help you understand more about what your relatives likely experienced. One way to do this is by searching for articles related to the famine on Newspapers.com. Or, for a shortcut, head to our Irish Potato Famine Topic Page, which is a free curated collection of newspaper clippings related to that topic.
2. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestors’ lives in their destination city.
Do you know where your Irish ancestors lived after immigrating to the United States? If so, you can explore newspapers from that city or state for the time period your ancestors lived there to get a sense of what their life may have been like after their arrival. From our Newspapers Map, you can see which papers are available on the site for a certain date and location.
Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding of the city will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one.
From images, to weather reports, to police blotters, to letters to the editor—practically every part of the newspaper can help you envision what the city was like when your ancestor lived there. If you’re lucky enough to know the name of the street where your ancestors lived, search the newspaper for that street name to build a picture of what their neighborhood was like.
If you aren’t sure where in the U.S. your Irish ancestors immigrated, you can look at newspapers from common port and destination cities for Irish immigrants. These include places like Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Canada was also a popular destination, since it was cheaper to sail there, so some Irish landed in Canada before eventually moving to the United States. This means a search through the Canadian papers on Newspapers.com may provide additional insights into your Irish immigrant ancestors.
If your Irish ancestors came through Ellis Island, as many later immigrants did, you can visit our Ellis Island Topic Page to explore newspaper clippings about this busy immigration station.
3. Newspapers can help you learn about the Irish immigrant experience.
Newspapers are also helpful for learning about the Irish immigration experience in general. Even a simple search on our site for phrases like “Irish immigrant” or “Irish immigration” returns thousands of search results that you can comb for information and experiences. For instance, if you have ancestors who came over around the turn of the 19th century, this article excerpt from 1900 New York may give you some insight into what it was like for them:
Newspapers will show you both the lows and highs of being an Irish immigrant in the United States. You’ll see articles about discrimination, poverty, and poor living conditions, but also about immigrants coming together to celebrate Irish traditions, building a community in a new country, and finding success. This kind of color will help bring your ancestors’ experiences to life.
We’ve been focusing on immigrants to the United States in this post. But if your Irish ancestors immigrated to England, Canada, or Australia instead, you can use these same methods to learn about their life in those locations. Just use our newspaper collections from those countries!
These tips are also useful even if you’ve already found vital records for the ancestor you’re looking for. Names and dates are essential to genealogy, but the journey doesn’t stop there. Newspapers can help you find the stories that will really flesh out your understanding of what your ancestor’s life may have been like.
Do you have any tips for finding Irish ancestors? Share them with us in the comments! Or start looking for your Irish immigrant ancestors on Newspapers.com.
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