Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Immigrant Society Records and Genealogy


Irish, Jewish, Catholic, Greek, Plus Other Records

Ancestors left their home places, families and the comforts of their language and community behind when they took the voyage to the new world. The world of hope was on the other side of the sea.  Those who made the trip were processed at ports like Ellis Island, exiting to what should have been a land of opportunity. These were the lucky ones; albeit homeless, poor, and sick.

Their luck often ran out as they exited the processing station. They needed shelter, food, jobs and healthcare, but they were often met by "runners" known as scammers, today. With little knowledge and a bit weary and desperate, they often fell into the trap of being exploited.  With each flood of ethnic emigrations, new arrivals fell prey. That is until Immigration Societies began forming with the mission to provide the basic needs. Food, cash, housing and guidance was provided to the new immigrant. Some societies offered lists of upstanding businesses and care for children and women.

Was My Ancestor Sponsored?
Between 1880-1920 these aid societies were in abundance, but they were established as early as the late 1700's, like the ones for Irish refugees. You may find in passenger lists that your ancestor was supported by an Emigrant Society or ethnic aid society. Obituaries may list your ancestor's involvement or membership.  Church records may record assistance given to your ancestor upon arrival.  I've seen ancestors recorded immigrant records supported by the Catholic church, Greek Orthodox, and Jewish organizations, to name a few: 

Catholic Emigrant Societies.  Visit the New Advent, Emigrant Societies for a listing of Catholic emigrant societies.

Charitable Irish Society
. In 1737 twenty-six men organized the Charitable Irish Society in Boston, Mass. The society collaborated "with the Irish Immigration Center and the Irish Pastoral Centre." Employment, housing, education, finance, health, and the law seminars were offered.  Charitable Irish Society Records, 1737-2008 may be found at the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).  The HIAS, founded in 1881, provided meals, transportation, jobs and temporary housing for Manhattan Jewish immigrants. http://www.hias.org/ The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) collection includes immigrants arriving in Boston,  Providence and Rhode Island, between 1870 and 1929.  Arrival cards, individual case files, and passenger lists from the Boston HIAS are now held at the AJHS which has a collection of over 100 years. 

Emigrant Aid Society.  The Emigrant Aid Society founded in 1841, supported Irish immigrants. In 1850, the Emigrant Savings Bank was founded to provide safe banking practices to include sending bank drafts back to Ireland.  Records from 1841 - 1975 are held at the New York Public Library Manuscript Division. These records may also be found at the Family Search Library.

Royal Philanthropic Society.  In 1788 the Royal Philanthropic Society was organized "for the admission of the offspring of convicts and the reformation of criminal poor children." Mostly these children roamed the streets of Great Britain (majority in London) and parents had been either transported to Australia. or of Australian heritage. According to the website, this society housed, clothed, fed, schooled and apprenticed these children with the end goal that that they would become "useful members of society." The Admission, Discharge and Other Records, 1788-1890 can be found at the Family History Library.

Where to Begin
These records are not centralized.  But the search for where they are housed is worth the effort.  They are full of ancestral data.  A good place to start for Immigrant Society research is at the Family Search Library website using the keywords "Emigrant Societies." Be sure to expand your search.

Don't forget your State Historical Society, local libraries and additional information may be found in Ethnic Genealogical Society collections, which may be found via a simple Google search (i.e. Polish Society).

(Post updated 15 Sep 2020; original 2011).

Kathleen Brandt

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