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Archiver > IRISH-IN-CHICAGO > 2006-01 > 1136222910


From: dan hogan <>
Subject: Fwd: Good news for those tracing Irish who landed in NY
Date: Mon, 2 Jan 2006 09:28:30 -0800 (PST)


From the irish-in saint-louis list.
Dan Hogan


> This is an article from the Irish Voice
>
> (From Diane: Note that these records only go back
> to 1892.)
>
>
> Forgotten Irish Women Found by Priest
>
> By Sean O' Driscoll
>
> Father Peter Meehan opens up a giant ledger and
> peers down its pages.
> Mary from Co. Donegal, age 18, was going to a
> cousin's house in New York.
>
> Sheila from Cork was going to Brooklyn. Maire from
> Kerry is staying in
> the Bronx.
>
> One 8-year-old McCarthy girl was going to an aunt
> and uncle on Pearl
> Street in Manhattan.
>
> In the four ledgers he keeps at Our Lady of the
> Rosary church in
> downtown Manhattan are the lives of over 60,000
> Irish women who were
> forced from poor houses and on to emigrant ships in
> the 19th and early
> 20th century.
>
> He found them in a vault in the church at the tip of
> Manhattan, where
> once an organization called the Our Lady of the
> Rosary for the
> Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls provided
> temporary shelters for
> young women to keep them from the pimps, thieves and
> sweatshop owners
> who lined the docks looking for easy prey.
>
> The ledgers are one of the most valuable records
> ever found of Irish
> emigration to the U.S., giving a far fuller picture
> of the women's lives
> than records at Ellis Island.
>
> Carefully turning the page on one of the ledgers,
> Meehan shows the
> handwritten entries with the name, age, county of
> origin and destination
> address of each of the 60,000 girls. (Some 120,000
> women passed through
> the doors but only half the records have been
> found.)
>
> The potential of the find is enormous says Karen
> Aleta, a program
> director at Pace University's School of Education,
> which is using a team
> of volunteers to enter all the ledger's details onto
> a computer database.
>
> "We have far more data here than on Ellis Island --
> we know where these
> girls came from in Ireland and where they were
> going, we can follow it
> right through. It's so exciting," she said.
>
> The Pace group is hoping to cross-reference the
> volumes with Ellis
> Island records, creating a much more complete
> picture of the women's
> arrival into the U.S.
>
> Father Peter Meehan with one of the Irish ledgers
>
> Meehan, a soft spoken man and one time liberal
> activist within the
> church, turns another page, showing the huge range
> of counties and
> destinations.
>
> "I found one for Oregon!" he says excitedly. "How on
> earth were they
> supposed to get there? If they wanted to sail there
> they'd have to go
> around the tip of South America."
>
> All the names recorded tell a painful story. All the
> women came from the
> poorhouses of Ireland, and most are from the
> traumatized generations
> that followed the famine, parentless and working for
> food in overcrowded
> government shelters across Ireland.
>
> As a way of depopulating the rural areas, the
> British government felt
> that it was best to send the young women to America
> before they started
> having children.
>
> "They would ask the girls if they knew someone in
> America. If they did,
> they were sent on a ship. Many of them had nothing
> more than a slip of
> paper with the name of a relative they had never
> met," says Meehan.
>
> It is, historians say, a hugely overlooked part of
> Irish history.
> Without economic or political power, the women
> simply disappeared in
> huge numbers, their names lost to history until
> Meehan made a chance
> discovery while examining the vaults of the church.
>
> The value of the ledgers has not been lost on
> genealogy groups that are
> eager to record their contents.
>
> The Mormon Church and other groups interested in
> genealogy have made
> "very generous offers" to be allowed to photocopy
> the records and put
> them online, says Meehan.
>
> But he turned down the offers, preferring to go with
> Pace University and
> hoping one day to create an internet database of the
> records, which date
> from 1883 to 1926.
>
> As he speaks, we can hear the loud thumping of
> construction equipment
> outside. The church, just yards from where emigrant
> ships disembarked at
> the tip of Manhattan, is surrounded by looming
> office blocks and the
> muddy construction site of a new subway station.
>
> "These records are from a disappearing world," he
> says with a smile,
> pointing out where the construction work has damaged
> the interior of the
> rectory.
>
> The records, he says, are only a small, linear
> recording of a vast
> emigrant story.
>
> "There would be guys waiting at the docks to take
> these girls to lodging
> houses but would disappear with their bags. Others
> were led up to Five
> Points and into vice," says Meehan.
>
> "Others were sent into terrible indentureships.
> These girls would sign
> up as servants for twenty years and couldn't escape.
> The mission helped
> them to escape that. You don't see that in the
> ledgers.
>
> "The mission was very protective," he adds. "It
> wouldn't let anyone
> collect the girls unless they could show that their
> names exactly
> matched the relatives' names held by the girls."
>
> It was more than three years after discovering the
> ledgers that Meehan
> began to realize their true importance.
>
> After looking around for a sponsor to save the
> ledgers from rot, Meehan
> got limited funding from the Homeland and Hougouton
> Foundations as well
> as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
>
> After Pace helped design a system to preserve the
> records on computer,
> volunteers have been entering the records at
> weekends.
>
> A quick examination of the records finds names from
> every county in
> Ireland. Most of the girls appeared to be in their
> late teens, but some
> were as young as eight or as old as 40.
>
> "Unfortunately, our records only go as far as 1892,"
> said Meehan. "We're
> not opening it to the public until we get it all on
> computer, but then
> it will be an amazing record for people."
>
> He sees the records as a reminder, in these
> scandal-hit times, that the
> church has done some good.
>
> "The church has got some real black eyes recently.
> It's sexist, it's
> authoritarian, it's had the terrible sex scandals.
> These books show that
> the church has done some good, and it's something we
> have to share,"
> Meehan said.
>
> Before Meehan closed over the giant ledger, he takes
> one last look at
> names neatly arranged in lines down the page. He
> wants these names, he
> says, to be a reminder.
>
> "Now in America we have xenophobes who want to put
> barbed wired and
> machine gun towers to stop the immigrants," he said.
> "But I think that
> this place would serve as an inspiration to them
> all."
>
> End of story
>
> From Diane: You can read this on line here:
>
http://www.irishabroad.com/news/irishinamerica/news/forgotten-irish-women-dec2105.asp


Dan Hogan



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