Finding an Irish Ancestor Using United States Records
- 1 Notes on Immigration
- 2 How to Use This Page
- 3 Census
- 4 Church Records
- 5 Emigration and Immigration Records
- 6 Vital Records
- 7 Occupation Records
- 8 Military Records
- 9 Probate
Notes on Immigration
The Irish emigration to the United States spans several centuries. The most significant ports for North America included, Boston, Philadelphia, Grosse Ilse, City of Quebec, Montreal in Province of Quebec, Baltimore, especially 19th Century New York, Portland Maine, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco. Ports of embarkation and ports of call included Liverpool, Belfast, Waterford, Cork, Dublin, Southampton, Bristol, and London. From 1894, Canadian steamship and railroads advertized to potential immigrants to the United States to instead sail into Canadian ports, and then gain entry through U.S. ports of entries into the United States to avoid the hassles of the larger U.S. ports such as New York. However, in 1894 these steamship and railroad companies were brought into compliance with United States immigration law; passengerlists were created to document the movements of all immigrants from Canada into the United States. Therefore, for example, from this time, forward the Port of St Albans, Vermont ship lists become a valuable record source for tracing some immigrants to the United States but who came through Canadian ports of entry first, and then came through St Albans, in order to migrate to their final destination in the United States.
Due to the English Crown government's austere laws, i.e. Penal Act of 1695, drove many native Irishmen from their lands, and at times--even out onto the streets, and which caused some Irish Catholic families that could afford it, to emigrant. Catholic and Protestant families appear in Catholic and Protestant church records throughout the United States. Irish emigrant names appear in many types of genealogical records. For a list of United States records which researchers should first seek in order to learn the specific place of birth of their Irish origins, find and use the following records in the order listed below:
Home records - often records are stored in attics, basements, in boxes held in storage closets which hold treasures of information; seek these in the homes of relatives, distant relatives and 'lost' cousins. Such memorabilia as old pictures with old addresses, letters, family Bibles, medalions, uniforms, copies of wills, church baptisms/marriages, insurance policies, military documents, etc.
Vital Records - standard format of statutory i.e. death certificates require parents’ names, specific place and date of birth; marriage certificates sometimes ask for birth information on both parties
Church Records - sometimes provide Irish place-name or parent names information
Obituaries - may provide clarifying place-name of Irish origins, birth information
Passenger Lists - occasionally provide specific Ireland place-name
Tombstones/Cemetery Records - may provide critical Irish county/town, birth information
Naturalization Records - may provide at least the Ireland county name of origin
Other "indexed" original records or compiled sources may include:
Census - in occasional instances may provide more specific Ireland birthplace
Local (county, township) Histories - sometimes provide birth information on emigrants
Military Records - usually provide outstanding evidence of birthplace and sometimes parentage
Deeds - in North Carolina, Maine and a few other regions may provide Ireland place of origin data
Newspaper articles - may give personal accounts of tragedy, and more about immigrant ancestors
Funeral Home Records - where available
Biographies - especially documented, may provide parentage and birthplace information
Great Britain Merchant Marine - give birthplace data
SSDI or Social Security Death Index - a search in the index may subsequently lead users to Form SS-5 “Social Security Number Record Third Party Request for Photocopy” - for birth information
How to Use This Page
The following records listed below may more quickly assist researchers in finding more about their Irish immigrant ancestors in the United States (see links). The United States Wiki articles for especially each state and these sources listed here should be useful and helpful guides in research.
The United States Federal Census records sometimes reveal more specific details about our Irish immigrant ancestors than usual and on occasion even lists a specific birthplace in Ireland. This is the exception rather than the norm. For more indepth information on the United States Federal Census, try our wiki under [[[United States Census]].
The census records of the United States are available online from 1790 -1930 at these websites:
- ancestry.com has the complete sets of censuses from 1790-1930 inclusive
- HeritageQuest.com has 1790-1810; 1860-1930 census records; available only at archives, libraries or institution-bases only
- FamilySearch and FindMyPast are indexing the 1940 US Census
The following websites have partial censuses indexed and posted online:
- FamilySearch.org has the 1850, 1860, 1870 (partial), 1880, 1900, 1920, 1930 and 1940
- Footnote.com has the 1860 and 1930 (partial) online
Here are a few additional websites--mostly free--for some areas of states in U.S Federal censuses, all online:
- United States Census Online Internet links.
- Wee-Monster links to states' online census websites
- Census Finder - a gateway website to numerous links
Family History Library
The Family History Library has the United States Federal censuses from 1790-1940 inclusive on microfilm and by subscription--free access to in-house patrons to the above websites. Each site has many indexes to the census according to those years above specified (1790-1930). The Library also has some state census records for various states which list Irish immigrants here in America. Visit our online catalog at www.familysearch.org; follow the prompt to the Family History Library Catalog and type in the state of residence where the ancestral family resided and click on "Census Records".
For more indepth information on Church Records for the United States, try the United States Wiki (see entries for each state) Church Records: United States Church Records
Church records are among the most overlooked and lesser-used among records with vital event data in United States ancestral research! And yet these records are to be found throughout many parts of the country, and surprisingly, many of them go back a considerable ways in time. For example, the Roman Catholic Church has been well established in certain states and regions, such as in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida, many of which commenced in pre-Colonial times. Some of the earliest church registers in the United States are the Roman Catholic parish registers of St Augustine Florida, where the oldest registers began in 1594!
Other religions including the Congregational, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches are well established throughout New England and in New York as Protestant records have been kept. Since the higher percentage of the population of Irish were Roman Catholic, the church records of the Catholic Church must be highly considered and sought for. FamilySearch Inc.'s Family History Library, while it does not possess images of all or a majority of U.S. church records, its collections are, however, significant. To determine accessibility, search the Family History Library's online catalog under [Name of] "City", - "Church records" for pertinent microfilm numbers so that you can order same to your nearest FSC (FamilySearch Center--see FamilySearch.org and click "FamilySearch Centers" at page top).
In general, church records for all religions may encompass births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, burials, tombstone inscriptions, minutes of meetings and church court sessions, business records, membership registers, tithing, rates, payments, attendance, members, church histories and biographies. Our listing here of the different denominations of religion in the United States, is not comprehensive but the archives and main offices to these and all respective religions, are the gateways to recorded treasures:
- Episcopal (see also Methodist)
- Methodist (United)
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - often overlooked source for early vital events
- Roman Catholic
- Seventh-Day Adventists
- United Brethren
How do you find the records and access them?
- Diocesan offices (Episcopal and Roman Catholic)
- Circuit offices (Methodists)
- Repository, archive or library
- At the original church
Emigration and Immigration Records
Emigration records for those Irish leaving Ireland to come to the United States provide mostly complete coverage during the 19th Century. However, because many emigration records do not survive for years prior to 1800, tracing the Irish prior to this time is challenging. View FamilySearch online tutorials on Irish immigration by
Here is a list of online immigration databases for passengers coming to the United States:
- Ancestry.com ($) early to 1962; several passengerlist databases
- FindMyPast.com ($) 1890-1960 - a few major passengerlist databases available
- Immigrant Ship transcriber's Guild
- Castle Garden.org - 1820-1891
- Irish Immigrants Database 1820-1849
- Irish Famine Immigrants 1846-1851
- Ellis Island.org -1892-1924
- Germanroots.com - is a gateway for numerous immigration/emigration web sites
For those who descend from Irish immigrants who survivored the "Great Famine" (1846-1852), a high percentage of their immigrant siblings and relatives and friends died envoyage to North America. Some surviving written accounts of the journey, sometimes describe the Irish emigrant ships as death or "Coffin ships" due to the notoriously high mortality rate while crossing the Atlantic. If Cholera, or "Ship fever" (Typhus) didn't take lives, then dysentry often did, with as high estimates as forty percent or more of a ship's passengers received a watery grave, along the way. The following records, required of each ship's Master, recorded many deaths on ships (although, but not all) of emigrants--including some Irish passengers during this critical period. These are found in the Colonial Office: Land and Emigration Commission records -1847-1854 (CO 386 Class series) at The National Archives.
Here is a valuable tool for locating your British/Irish ancestors who came to the United States before 1820 when U.S. passenger lists began to be maintained. Scott, Kenneth. 1979. British aliens in the United States during the War of 1812. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co. (FHL 973 W4s). As the War of 1812 began, all residents of the United States from Britain who had not begun the naturalzation process were considered an enemy of the country. To overcome this status, it was necessary for them to register locally with descriptions of themselves and their family members, how long they had been in the country, their occupation and their residency. This book lists these individuals and their information.
For more indepth and specific information on state vital records-keeping please see United States Vital Records.
Vital records for each of the states are available and are usually indexed in some way, either online or via in-house card indexes, transcript manuscripts, or intranet-postings. Actual certificates of births, marriages, deaths, divorces, and adoptions are available and accessible at state department of vital records/health and vital statistics from anywhere from about 1871 (as early as the 17th century for some New England states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut) to the present.
State vital records are the local government-sponsored recording of vital events such as birth, marriage and deaths, divorces and adoptions. These records are critical to Irish-American research in that they provide a wealth of information, especially the United States death certificates. At least most states' statutory certificates request death certificate information to include 1) names of parents, 2) specific place of birth (may not always provide this data), and 3) the date of birth; sometimes the date and place of marriage and to whom and whether the spouse is deceased at time of death. These online indexes reside in various places and formats. For the researcher's convenience, we have listed below the Web sites and Web page links to these vital records.
Information for obtaining copies of vital record certificates of births, marriages, deaths, etc. can be obtained by visiting:
At an additional cost, you can 'rush' order certificates via www.vitalchek.com, which helps obtain certificates--if ordered online by cutting the time it takes to mail to the state vital records office and saving the time normally taken for state offices to mail you the certificate--a savings of from 3-7 days. However, some state offices may take up to 2 months, occasionally more to mail documents out to the requesting public. And a rare few states, i.e. Pennsylvania which, ironically and peculiarly, require you to provide them with the exact date of the vital event or they may refuse to issue the certificate or record--the very information most researchers desparately seek to obtain by request!
The cost is anywhere from $12 to as much as about $25 per certificate or more depending on postal options used, or, whether "certified" or not.
Currently most states have some free online indexes which have been produced by volunteers over recent years. Here are several online "gateway" sites providing the researcher with a number of opportunities of finding pertinent data on ancestry at some or no cost:
- Wee-Monster - a gateway site to numerous online state links
- Deathindexes.com - see this website's state listings for nation-wide searches for vital records online, state by state
Indexes to the certificates can be viewed at the following websites (click on the two-letter state links):
Other Indexes at no cost:
FHL Favorites online, under U.S.A.--see1) "Emigration/Immigration"; 2) "Newspapers" (obtuaries); 3) "Cemeteries"; 4) "Church records" for numerous listings of links, state by state
Other indexes (fees apply) include
www.ancestry.com This index is very complete and offers better coverage of indexes. Easy quick searches for large periods of time. They have Canadian Border Crossings from 1895, St Albans VT Crossings from 1894, and other immigration record databases available, online.
Many of our Irish emigrant ancestors came to the United States, illiterate, in poverty, and many suffered with lingering health deprivations, i.e. from the Great Famine. The promise of a new and better life in the United States, hinged on finding work in this country. While difficult at first for many emigrants, due to the opening up of frontier lands, a booming and expansive industrial and manufacturing complex, tens of thousands of emigrants labored in railroad building and steel manufacturing works, and canal systems especially throughout the east and midwest. Many settled into new farmlands, or were hired on as farm-hands and others as domestic servants throughout the more established regions of the country.
Some personnel records for major, i.e. railroad companies, construction, road-paving, steel manufacturing and others have survived. Search for any surviving records in the following locations:
- the Family History Library Catalog (or FHLC) at FamilySearch.org - Enter the company name, then click on "Occupations" for state, county or town
- State historical societies
- State and/or county archives
- Public libraries
- College/university libraries
- on-site at existing manufacturing/corporation premises, i.e. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad;
For more indepth information on British Military for Ireland, try our wiki under England Military Records
For more indepth information on United States Military, try our wiki under United States Military Records
Many Irish came to the United States and later enlisted and joined the Army or Navy. Some Irishmen who served in the British Military establishment, left Great Britain to emigrate and some ended up serving in the Army of the United States.
Records of the Military: muster rolls, pay vouchers, pension files, rank commissions, biographical info, medical records, medal awards, courts martial, etc.
Ancestry.com offers the following important records databases from U.S. Military sources:
World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 Military 24,016,021
U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 Military 7,108,005
U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 Military 8,369,212
U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 Military 6,402,239
U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 Military 6,261,619
American Civil War Soldiers Military 4,252,125
U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles Military 4,257,810
Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 Military 2,078,784
U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 Military 1,378,006
U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783 Military 425,724
Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865 Military 1,565,511
U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1940 Military 11,989,087
American Civil War Regiments Military 6,508
U.S. Navy Cruise Books, 1950-1988 Military 86,206
U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 Military 391,018
WWI Civilian Draft Registrations Military 1,231,099
War of 1812 Service Records Military 582,271
Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865 Military 193,819
Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 Military 170,057
War of 1812 Pension Application Files Index, 1812-1815 Military 2
WWII U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Muster Rolls, 1939-1949 Military 1,041,701
Confederate Service Records, 1861-1865 Military 57,571
U.S. Rosters of World War II Dead, 1939-1945 Military 357,086
Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution Military 1,043
Abstract of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots
This outstanding website works cooperatively with The National Archives to digitize many of its vast records collections. Here's their impressive list of offerings online for United States military records:
Civil War Records
- Civil War IRS records - PA Internal Revenue Assessment Lists For Pennsylvania, 1862-1866.
- Compiled service records of soldiers in the Civil War, labeled with each soldier's name, rank, and unit, with links to revealing documents about each soldier.
- Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index – to applications for service in the US Army between 1861 and 1917.
- Civil War "Widows' pension” applications of widows and other dependents of Civil War veterans who served between 1861 and 1910.
- Confederate Amnesty Papers - Applications for pardon submitted to President Andrew Johnson by former Confederates excluded from earlier amnesty proclamations.
- Confederate "Citizens Files" pertains to goods furnished or services rendered to the Confederate government by private individuals or business firms.
- Mormon Battalion Pension Files – the Mormon Battalion was formed in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1846, to support the US troops in California during the Mexican War.
- Navy Survivors' Certificates - these files document the name, age, residence, date and place of birth of Navy veterans submitted between 1861 and 1910.
- Navy Widows' Certificates.- Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of U.S. Navy veterans who served between 1861 and 1910
Revolutionary War Records
- Revolutionary War Pensions and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files
- Revolutionary War Prize Cases - Captured Vessels; prize cases heard on appeal from Colonial and state courts by the Continental Congress and the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture.
- Revolutionary War Rolls – of muster rolls, payrolls, strength returns, and other miscellaneous personnel, pay, and supply records of American Army units, 1775-83.
- Revolutionary War Service Records - Compiled service records of soldiers who served in the American Army during the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783.
- War of 1812 Prize Cases, Southern Dist Court, NY - case files and prize records relating to maritime property seized at the country's leading port and commercial center, 1812-16.
World War II
- WWII Naval Press Clippings - newspaper clippings relating to the activities of the 13th Naval District and its personnel from World War II through 1960
The National Archives (NARA)
The National Archives provides the following rich repertoire of records:
Compiled Service Records:
Compiled service records consist of abstracts from muster rolls, returns, pay vouchers, and other records. They provide an ancestor's rank, unit, date enlisted and mustered out, biographical information, medical data.
Pension Applications and Pension Payment Records:
The National Archives also has pension payments and applications for veterans, and widows, and other heirs, from between 1775 and 1916, which may provide marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other papers.
Bounty land warrant application files relate to claims based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855. If your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, early Indian Wars, or the Mexican War, a search of these records may be worthwhile. Bounty land records often contain documents similar to those in pension files, with lots of genealogical information. Many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files. Here's an online database search in the indexes to these records.
Numerous wars have been fought, providing researchers with records for the following war campaigns:
- American Revolution
- War of 1812
- Mexican War
- Civil War
- Wars on American soil
- Spanish American War
- Philippine Insurrection
- Boxer Rebellion
- World War I
- World War II
- Korean War
- Vietnam War
For finding British army ancestry who may have received land pensions and settled here in North America, or, who may have deserted over to the American (Patriot) side of 'the line', an outstanding published work (3 vols) is John Kitzmiller's In Search of the Forlorn Hope. His monumental compilation is invaluable for those seeking their British Army ancestry. It bridges the huge gap between knowing (or not), the name[s] of the British army Regiment to which an ancestor belonged while serving in the Revolutionary War campaign (and other wars as well). His book is a "must" in identifying which regimental records to search first, out of the many, in tracing a British army soldier's specific place of birth.
The wiki for the United States provides links to probate records for many states. Search under the state and/or county name; then click on "Probate records". Many wills/probate records have been indexed including indexes and probate records to wills, administrations, act books, etc. For probate click on the state and/or county of interest and then click on probate records at: United States Probate Records