The Irish Diaspora is one of the most astounding mass movements of people in world history - by 1890, a stunning 40% of Irish-born people were living in another country.
This explains why it can be so difficult to find details about your Irish ancestors and their journey - from a research standpoint, evidence of their migration is a needle in a haystack.
But that evidence is so important to our family history that we think you absolutely must find it. It can bring to life the story of our some of the most important members of our family tree - those who risked everything to come to America in search of a better life. What a fantastic story to be able to tell!
And now with some recent additions to our immigration records, you have a better chance than ever of locating them.
Here's how to do it:
What you will find
Passenger lists vary greatly depending on the organization operating the voyage, the port of entry and the year. In general, you can hope to find:
- Birth year
- Country of origin
- Arrival year
- Arrival city
- Ship name
- Other family members traveling
Finding out the ship name and date of voyage that your family moved to America is a huge discovery in and of itself, but these records can do more than just mark that momentous occasion. Details found on passenger lists will often be very useful for tracing your heritage all the way back to Ireland and finding your Irish ancestors.
It would be nice if the passenger lists gave us county or town of origin information, but that's unfortunately not common. But with a birth year and a known date of emigration, that helps us narrow down the time window greatly. Furthermore, finding names of family or friends your ancestor traveled with is extremely valuable - if you haven't been able to find your direct ancestor's birthplace in a census record or naturalization petition, try searching for other members of their immigration party.
Finding this information will give you a great start to searching county or parish records to find your Irish family.
How to verify
Age: Use other information you already have about your immigrant ancestors to verify that the record you have found is for the correct person. Though some passenger lists won't outright list birth year, you can usually figure it out by subtracting the age of the passenger from the date of travel. Is that consistent with other sources you have for the year of birth?
Family members or known associates: Looking at the other names on the list is key too. Although some family members traveled by theselves until the rest of the family could come over, many families traveled at the same time - especially poverty-stricken Irish families who had lost their land. If you recognize family members (and their ages make sense too), this is a pretty good indication you've found the right record.
Where to look
You'll be able to find passenger lists for every major port of entry on Findmypast, but for Irish immigrants certain record sets will be most useful.
New York passenger lists and arrivals: We just added 12 million names to this collection, extending the date range to 1820-1957. If your family immigrated prior to 1892, they likely came through Castle Garden, not Ellis Island, which opened in 1892. Castle Garden processed over 7 million immigrants - New York was the country's primary port of entry during the heaviest decades of Irish immigration, 1840-1890. Though numbers declined after that period, 833,000 Irish immigrants came to America in the first half of the 20th century, and many can be found in our New York passenger lists.
Boston passenger lists: Boston was considered the hub of immigration to New England, and we have 3.7 million records in this collection, ranging from 1820-1943. Boston has always been home to a significant Irish population - if you cannot find your ancestors in our main collection, try a secondary collection we have, focused on Boston arrivals from 1846-1851. We have more than 90,000 records in this collection, which covers years at the peak of famine-related immigration.
Baltimore passenger lists: You may not realize it, but Baltimore has extensive Irish roots, and a large number of immigrants landed there. We have more than 1.5 million records detailing arrivals between 1820 and 1957. Baltimore was one of the nation's busiest ports during the 19th century. If you can't find your Irish immigrant ancestors in our main collection, try our Baltimore arrivals from 1846-1851, which encompass peak Irish immigration years.
Leaving the UK lists: Don't forget to look at the other end of the journey. As a leading resource of British and Irish records, we have a significant collection of records detailing emigrants. Our records range from 1890-1960, so these are most useful for those who immigrated closer to the 20th century.
We also have passenger lists for Philadelphia, Michigan, New Orleans and Florida.