Researching Irish Immigrant Girls

Are you researching Irish immigrant girls in your family tree?

Try the Watson House Digital Archives for more information on
Irish immigrant girls who arrived in New York.

Between 1856 and 1921, 3.6 million emigrants left Ireland for North America. Most of them were women who were single and younger than twenty-four.

Researching Irish Immigrant Girls in New York

Thanks to nineteenth-century immigration activist and writer Charlotte Grace O’Brien, the Catholic Church founded a mission in lower Manhattan to provide haven for more than 100,000 young Irish girls who came to New York and the United States to work as servants.

Irish immigrant girls without family members to greet them on arrival were directed to the “Home of the Irish Immigrant Girls,” as the mission was popularly known. The mission, which was founded in 1883, also assisted immigrant girls with lodging and jobs.

The first director was Father John J. Riordan. Our Lady of the Rosary Church and Watson House were located near Castle Garden where Father Riordan met arriving immigrant ships each day. Later when the immigration depot moved to Ellis Island, agents greeted the girls and escorted them to the Mission.

A few years ago, the records of records of 60,000 young Irish women at the Mission at Watson House in lower Manhattan were discovered. The Mission Record Books on the emigration arrivals of the Irish women are part of the collection of the Our Lady of the Rosary, Saint Elizabeth Seton Shrine, here at Watson House, and will be part of a planned future Irish heritage and genealogical center.

Researching Irish Immigrant Girls

Sample record from the Watson House Archives

The Mission maintained ledgers, organized by ship arrival, recording the name, age, and county of birth, and ship name, destination, sisters traveling together, and addresses of family already in America of 60,000 immigrant Irish women. Many of the women came from counties Mayo, Galway, Cork, Kerry, and Roscommon, departing from Queenstown.

Five of the Mission ledgers, from 1897 to 1940, are indexed, digitized, and made available for search or browsing at the Watson House Digital Archives.  The watsonhouse.org website also offers a detailed exhibition on Irish women’s immigrant experiences and a forthcoming section on genealogy research.

Click this Watson House Digital Archives link to search the database for records that have been digitized to date. To visit an online exhibit about Watson House, click here.

Researching Irish Immigrant GirlsFor more help on researching immigrant ancestors, download “Discovering Immigrant Ancestors.” This Sassy Jane Genealogy Guide has 25 pages of direct links for 19th- and 20th-century immigration records through all U.S. ports. Links to naturalization records and little-known resources for immigrant ancestors are also included.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”

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