Friday 7 February 2014

Book review: Finding your Irish Ancestors in NYC

Written by Joseph Buggy, or Joe as I know him, Finding your Irish Ancestors in New York City aims to present a comprehensive overview for anyone who wishes to trace their Irish ancestors within the five boroughs of the Big Apple.

Joe didn't set out to tell the story of Irish emigration either generally or specifically to New York; his focus is very clear: to direct the family historian to relevant resources and to provide research strategies for when things get tricky, which, let's face it, they often do when trying to narrow down the place of origin beyond the ubiquitous 'from Ireland'.

The strength of that focus probably comes from the fact that Kilkenny born-and-bred Joe, who only recently emigrated and settled with his wife in the USA, has had to learn the hard way where to find genealogical records on his new patch. His voyage of discovery is our gain! The narrow focus has also resulted in a tightly edited publication. There are no meanderings, here.

Although he includes some context to each grouping of resources, his explanations are succinct. Possibly a complete beginner to family history might need a bit more hand-holding, but I suspect many who seek out this book will be happy to get stuck straight into its hard core data.

Two early chapters run through the 'introductory' record sets – the federal census, the New York State Census, the birth, marriage and death collections that American researchers call Vital Records, City Directories and Naturalisation, and Will & Letters of Administration – and underused resources that, because of historical realities, are of particualar value to Irish research: almshouses, Potter's Field paupers' cemetery, pubic sector employment, newspapers and criminal records.

From there, the book digs deeper into research strategies for those who hit brickwalls, looking at how immigrants from certain counties tended to settle in specific parts of the city, how accents may have impacted on a surname's spelling, and the need to follow forward in time the papertrail of all relatives (especially children) known to have emigrated with the immigrant ancestor.

More than twenty sources are provided of records where details of origin might be located, and there is an entire chapter dedicated to the difficult process of locating Roman Catholic baptism and marriage registers. They are, so I learned, all held at parish level, and there are 396 parishes in New York City. Contact details and the relevatnt dates of their registers are carefully detailed according to district – Manhatten, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island – right down to phone number and email address.

Cemeteries get a similarly intense listing, and there is a 25 page listing of periodicals, websites and reference books to seek out.

As Joe explains in his intro, the book is written primarily with US researchers in mind, especially those with 19th and 20th century immigrant ancestors who didn't leave a ready record of their place of origin, and given the depth of reference contained in the 165 pages, the book is going to help many to discover that Holy Grail.

On this side of the Atlantic, I come at it from a different perspective having spent a lot of time thrashing around in the main online databases hoping to discover where members of my extended family, especiallly the single women emigrants, settled in New York. I know where they came from; I don't know where they went to. Joe's book will, I'm sure, bring a greater clarity to my research and give me some new avenues to explore.

From either angle, Finding your Irish Ancestors in New York City earns a permanent space on the bookshelf and will not disappoint anyone trying to get to grips with, or find new ideas for tracing their Irish roots in NYC.

Finding your Irish Ancestors in New York City
by Joseph Buggy is published in soft back by Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore. It is available from the publisher's website for $19.95. From Amazon £12.56. ISBN 978-0806319889.