Irish Immigration to the United States

Tempting though it may be to begin your Irish ancestry research in Ireland, discovering the origins of Irish immigrants should be started in the USA.

Irish immigration to the United States started long before the Great Famine in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century. The 1790 United States Census records approximately half a million Irish immigrants residing in the US at that time, and over a million came over at the time of the Famine:

Search Irish Famine Immigrants Records 1846-1851.

As always with family history research, you have to work backwards and if you have directly related or extended family members who can help you, talk to them first. Once you have established a surname and which line of the family you are going to trace back and where they are likely to have lived, search the US Federal Census records to find them.

The US Federal Censuses 1900-1930 give the naturalization status and the year of immigration to the US as well as the place of birth.

Where to look

Census Records are available online. They will show family groups and household information. Always take a broad approach – ‘cluster’ research, that is wider family research, will often provide clues and keep you on track.

City Directories – in which you can track working adults year by year, addresses and occupations. Available online.

Church Records – may have information. Visit the local church if you can or write to them. Many of their records are now available online. Memorial Inscriptions will often mention the place of birth as well as the date and many MI’s are also now available online, but if not, try and give them a call or write.

Court Records – Deeds, Guardianships, Probate, Naturalization Records (millions online) and Vital Records. Not everything is online, it may be necessary to write or visit the relevant court.

Newspaper obituaries – A great source of information. Expect to learn your ancestor’s history, whether or not married and how many times, occupation(s), where lived, where born and date of birth, achievements etc. Available online.

Newspaper indexes – also very useful.

Military Records – eg World War 1 Draft Registrations. Available online.

Passenger Lists – available online

Voter Registrations – also give place of birth and many are available online.

As always with Family History research, it’s best try and find information from as many sources as possible. This way, clues will be found in some records that correlate to information in other records enabling gaps to be filled and suppositions verified.

Having found that you have Irish ancestors, and presuming that you have their basic information, you will next want to look at the Irish records of Ireland. Unfortunately there was an explosion at the Irish Public Records Office in June 1922 and many records were lost.

However, here is just some of what is still available:

1 April 1845 Registration of non-Catholic marriages
1 January 1864 Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths.
1922 Northern Ireland records can be found in the General Registry Office of Ireland.

The Irish Civil Registration index from 1845 to 1958 can be searched online at and the information found used to order certificates.

The 1901 and 1911 censuses for the 32 counties of Ireland are available online.

If visiting Ireland, research can be continued at the Irish GRO and The National Library. County Centers also offer indexed church records.