Book Review: Joseph Buggy's 'Finding Your Irish Ancestors in New York City'

It's funny, but when I mentioned to a close friend that I was going to be reviewing this book, she said "Oh, I found all of that on Ancestory.com". Fair enough. Some people visit one website and are satisfied with the history they come away with. For my friend (being third generation removed from Ireland into America), that might be enough. But what about the rest of us? Those of us with family still in Ireland who had grandparents, grand aunts and uncles, even parents who came to America for the first time -- us the first born Americans? Surely we've been told the story of our emigrant parents again and again. Or have we? Have we been told what ship they arrived on? Where they lived and worked? Where they went to Mass, were married, and even buried? Did we hear about the poverty they suffered? The almshouses and sanitariums they had to endure? Do we know the truest story of the Irish of New York? Frankly, aren't all the Irish who came to New York our family and isn't this OUR story? Indeed it is.

Joseph Buggy has committed himself to the task of collecting and documenting (by the most thorough investigation of Irish emigrant resources assembled in one book) every possible source. With the skill of a cataloger and library reference manager, Joe has created a 165 page master work titled "Finding Your Irish Ancestors in New York City". This is a smartly researched guide, divided into simple, organized categories that aid in the quest for roots. Novice and scholar alike will be impressed with the breadth of discernment the author has practiced here. Logically following an organized script with period explanations of our ancestor's New York, this is as much a deep history of New York City itself and the roles the Irish have played in its development.

With more than a page of abbreviations to be used in the following text I was launched back in time to federal and NY State census data from 1850 in all five boroughs and was steered to numerous free websites for further access. Through NY Municipal Archives and seven other records centers, I was steered to vitals records for births, marriages, deaths and geneology holdings. I was impressed by how some Irish became naturalized US citizens by fighting in the Civil War and the reminder that, prior to 1922, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.

The history of the Catholic Church was a focal point for Irish growth in New York. Six pages alone are devoted to locations for obtaining records. I found most fascinating the almshouses that, prior to the American Revolution, provided assistance to the destitute; the hospitals on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island); and the sad stories of widowed mothers and children in Bellevue Hospital and Randall's Island trying to avoid poor houses, orphanages, and burials in Potter's Fields on Hart Island. Employment and Newspapers are fully explored (four full pages). Some of the papers still exist (The Irish Echo).

Strategies are discussed for searching and "priests in the family" can be of great assistance also. The "FAN club" deserves mention. FAN stands for Friends, Associates, and Neighbors. Collateral research is explored. Where the Irish lived is given attention and the Catholic Churches that opened provided clues. Lower Manhattan at first over to Brooklyn, and eventually Hell's Kitchen, Inwood, Bay Ridge, Flatbush, Woodside, Sunnyside, and Breezy Point developed high concentrations of Irish ancestry.

With the Famine years, counties of Kenmare, Kerry, Sligo, Cork, Tipperary, Longford, and others are reassembled in the Bowery, City Hall, and the notorious "Five Points". The "Wards" of the city are delineated and boundaries defined with clarity against current street names. Even the Emigrant Savings Bank provides detail to the lives of our ancestors. Joe finds passenger lists from shipping lines and immigrant associations and lays them out in full view.

From the founding of the first Catholic Church in New York City, St. Peter's in 1785, to the building of the New York and Harlem Railroads in the 1830s, and the Famine years thereafter, the author fills 68 pages with detailed church and cemetery contact information--an unusually thorough investigation. 16 pages of periodicals and articles are provided. One of most impressive collections of websites and links every assembled and a comprehensive bibliography close out this book.

To my third generation Irish friend and her total satisfaction with Ancestry.com I can offer no correction but for myself and every other New York City Irish-American, Joseph Buggy's "Finding Your Irish Ancestors in New York City" is a good find indeed.

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Tags: Ancestry, Buggy, Genealogy, Literature, New York, Opinion, Reviews

Comment by Gerry Regan on February 18, 2014 at 6:00pm

Bravo, Kevin. Further to your point, I have to believe that the city's archives, and many of local church and cemetery records, are not available through Ancestry.com. Thank God as I don't believe we want, nor need, to be reaching into our pocket every time we want to access OUR own church and family history. We can better own the history if we can touch it, and you can't necessarily 'hold' it by dialing up the data on your PC. There is a value to online databases like Ancestry, and, better still in the eyes of some, FindMyPlace, but the best finds are likely to be the tactile finds, that is, the ones achieved through walking, talking and 'feeling.'

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