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Finding Immigrant Origins in the Old Country through Newspapers

Before GenealogyBank was created in October 2006, researchers had difficulty tracking down the Irish side of their family. (This articles includes a special offer for readers of The Genealogy News)


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenealogyBank
Prepared by: Thomas Jay Kemp
Word Count: 879 (approx.)
Labels: Obituary 
Short URL:

In researching my family tree for more than 45 years I have researched my family lines here and overseas. I first thoroughly explore the U.S. based resources before jumping the pond to find my relatives in Ireland or other countries. One of the key facts I look for is to find the exact town or county where our ancestors came from. So many records simply said "Ireland" or "England". Finding the exact town where they were from gives us a sense of place – a community that we can identify with. It's possible to find those facts in our Irish and other immigrant research without going overseas now that so many newspapers have been digitized and are available online.

Before GenealogyBank was created in October 2006, researchers had difficulty tracking down the Irish side of their family. GenealogyBank's extensive archive of historical newspapers, more than 5,500 titles online, has changed all that.

One of the lucky things about Irish family history research is that newspapers often give the county and even the exact town where a person was born back in the old country. This critical information can be difficult to find in sources other than newspapers, although (as you'll see below) some of the material in GenealogyBank's historical documents collection can be quite helpful as well.

Newspaper Obituaries

Here's an obituary I found for Mrs. Catharine Reilly (1770-1874) that was published in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (23 October 1874) on page two. This is a good example of how valuable newspapers can be—this obituary has plenty of the genealogical facts we're looking for:

Image of Obituary

From this one obituary we find these facts about her:

• Date and place of birth: 4 May 1770, in Cootehill, County Cavan, Ireland

• Date and place of death: 3 Oct. 1874, in Media, Pennsylvania.

• Entry point into America and date: Port of Philadelphia, in 1840, where she lived "for many years"

• Descendants: 7 children and 24 grandchildren

• Other family history: Her aunt "recently died in Ireland at the age of one hundred and eight."

Newspaper Distribution

That's terrific—but look closer. There is another interesting fact this obituary reveals: it was first published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger and was reprinted in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (Oct. 23, 1874).

Why? Because editors from distant newspapers routinely printed obituaries for relatives and friends of the family that had moved to their area. You just might find that the obituary you are looking for also appeared in a newspaper clear across the country, where you would not expect it. This could give you additional clues and lead your family research in unexpected directions.

Image of Irish Newspapers

Irish American Newspapers

Along with thousands of newspapers from big cities and small towns, GenealogyBank has some specifically Irish American newspapers, such as:

The Shamrock (New York City) 1810-1817 (complete newspaper)
Irish World (New York City) 1890-1905 (complete newspaper)
Irish Voice (New York City) 2006-Today (obituaries only)

Historical Documents

And that's not all. Newspapers are great, but be sure to also look in GenealogyBank's historical documents collection. For example, here is a list of people in Ireland who were receiving a U.S. pension in 1883.

Source: "List of pensioners on the roll January 1, 1883," giving the name of each pensioner, the cause of the pension, the post office address, the rate of pension per month, and the date of original allowance, as called for by Senate resolution of December 8, 1882. Volume V, page 638:

Image of List of Pensioners

In the 1800's pensions were given based on need. Look at the variety of reasons why a person could have received a pension. For example:

- Ann Nolan, who lived in Ballon Tullow (County Carlow), Ireland, received a pension because she was a dependent mother.
- Edward Tierney of Athlone (County West Meath), Ireland, received a pension because he was a dependent father.
- William Cochburn of Ballingtre, Ireland, received a pension because he lost his left leg.
- Ann Moon of Ballygames, Ireland, received a pension because she was a widow.
- All received pensions because of their service to the U.S., or the service of their son or husband.

1883 Pensioners

This five-volume list of 1883 pensioners is a fantastic resource for genealogists. It is a crucial source for identifying pensioners from all wars still living in 1883, and it pinpoints where they were living— in the U.S. or around the world.

Volume V is especially helpful, as it lists people receiving U.S. pensions who were living in the following areas or countries:

- Africa
- Austria
- Belgium
- Brazil
- Denmark
- England
- France
- Germany
- Ireland
- Italy
- Madeira Island (Portugal)
- Malta
- Mauritius
- Mexico
- Netherlands
- New Zealand
- Norway
- Peru
- Romania
- Russia
- Scotland
- Spain
- Sweden
- Switzerland
- Wales
- West Indies:

Image of List of Pensioners on the Roll

Along with its extensive historical newspaper archive, GenealogyBank's historical documents collection can be an excellent source for documenting where in Ireland your family lived. It's certainly helped me with my family tree!

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Source Information: GenealogyBank, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2011.

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