Saturday 22 March 2014

Records of Irish immigrant women in NYC launched
35,000 free records and an online exhibition
An important archive of female Irish emigrants has been launched online at

This release has been in the pipe for some time but after Hurricane Sandy caused damage to the building in which the original materials were stored, there was concern the digitisation project might have stalled.

But in the last few days, without any fanfare, this significant collection has been uploaded and released free of charge.

The records originate from the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls. This Mission operated from 1883 to 1954 in Watson House, which overlooks New York Harbour. It was the brain-child of Charlotte Grace O'Brien, daughter of the Irish patriot William Smith O'Brien, and was set up close to Castle Garden, the depot where immigrants were landed in the mid-to-late 19th century, before Ellis Island opened.

It aimed to help young vulnerable Irish women on their arrival in New York and offered safe and free temporary accommodation, as well as assistance finding employment or tracing relatives.

Between 1883 and 1908, more than 300,000 Irish women aged from just 14 to 44 immigrated via New York port. Around one-third of them were helped in one way or another by the Mission. Their details were recorded in sets of ledgers.

Five of these ledgers have been digitised and make up the launch record set on the new site. They cover the years 1897 to 1940 and hold some 35,000 entries. The details provided are name of ship and arrival date, woman's name, age, county of origin, and follow-on or destination address. The latter usually gives the name of the person, and relationship, if any, to the immigrant.

The counties of Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry and Mayo feature proportionally higher than other places of origin, no doubt reflecting the relative poverty and higher levels of emigration from the west of Ireland.

Although the Mission concentrated on women, there seem to be a number of men recorded in the ledgers, too. A quick search found full entries for John Baldwin of Queen's, Patrick Keeley from Kings and Michael Walsh from Cork, and many others. I've no idea why these young men were receiving assistance. I shall try to find out.

In the meantime, enjoy this valuable new resource. I'd also recommend the online Exhibition, which carries a lot of well-researched material about the city the women landed in and how they were cared for by the Mission.

(Many thanks to Joe Buggy, author of Tracing your Irish Ancestors in New York, for tipping me off on the launch.)