The Irish In Us: A Quick Primer on Irish-American Genealogy Research

By Andy Mccarthy, Librarian II
March 16, 2021
The Piper

The Piper. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1588238

In 2019, 30.4 million U.S. residents claimed ancestry tracing back to Ireland—about six times the total current population of the Emerald Isle.

The U.S. county with the largest population of Americans citing Irish heritage is Cook County, Illinois, at 438,350. Yet it is the New York “Metropolitan Statistical Area”—as described by the federal Census Bureau—that has the largest population of people claiming roots in Ireland as a “single ancestry.”

One of the first waves of transatlantic Irish immigrants to the American colonies were known as Scots-Irish, or Scotch-Irish. These people were Scots from the southern lowlands who migrated to Ireland in the early 17th century, and over a period of generations in the 1700s eventually immigrated from Ireland to America.  A majority of Scotch-Irish settled throughout the Appalachian states of Virginia south to Georgia.

In 1845, a splotchy white fungus with dubious natural origins began to appear on Irish potato crops, resulting in a three-year famine that prompted one of the first mass migrations to the United States by a single ethnicity. A bulk of these newcomers entered through the port of New York. Generations later, reference librarians at the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History, and Genealogy at NYPL regularly field questions from patrons researching Irish relatives.

Miss Fay Taylour (Irish).

Miss Fay Taylour (Irish). NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1519041

Some tips for beginning your Irish genealogy research:

Getting Started


McCarthy and Wife

McCarthy and Wife. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID:  MOMA_0254V


Emigrant Savings Bank 

Though not exclusive to Irish depositors, the Emigrant Savings Bank was established in 1850 to chiefly serve the Irish immigrant community of New York City. The existing records can be difficult to navigate, but much of the material is digitized, and there are useful guides to finding the valuable genealogical data recorded in the archival material comprising this collection, including birthplace, dates of immigration, parents’ names, and address. See A User’s Guide to the Emigrant Savings Bank Records. A portion of the records have been indexed in Irish immigrants of the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank by Kevin J. Rich.

Ireland Participation - Building - Representatives from Irish-American societies in front of pavilion

Ireland Participation - Building - Representatives from Irish-American societies in front of pavilion. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID:  1676101

Irish Newspapers 

Search the NYPL catalog by Journal Title to determine the holdings of the below newspapers. Links to digitized versions of each title are typically provided in the catalog record: 

  • The Irish Times
  • The Irish American
  • Irish World and American Industrial Liberator
  • The Gaelic American
  • Irish Citizen
  • Irish America
  • The Irish-American Advance
  • The Irish Advocate/The Advocate
  • Shamrock Hibernian Chronicle
  • New-York Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register
  • AIS-EIRI; the magazine of Irish-America.

Alternatively, use these subject headings to browse the catalog for Irish and Irish American serials :

  • Irish -- United States -- Newspapers
  • Irish Americans -- Newspapers
  • Irish Americans -- Periodicals

Indexes and guides to Irish newspapers:


Be sure to check all the “Subjects” hyperlinks under the “Details” tab in each catalog record for each individual item in the NYPL catalog:

Reach Out to the Milstein Division at NYPL

Any questions? Reach out to reference librarians at the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History, and Genealogy at We will gladly answer any questions you might have, except we don’t know Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder...

Tell them that you're Irish

Tell them that you're Irish. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID:  1153852