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No Small Potatoes

Old famine field in Ireland

February 21, 2018

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Potato chips, French fries, and loaded baked potatoes are just some of the ways I love to eat potatoes. I even have two kids that live in Idaho where it is the state vegetable. One of them refers to “Idaho roadkill,” which are the potatoes that fall off the trucks on the way to the processing plant. So what does America’s favorite vegetable have to do with genealogy? The Great Famine, also called the Irish Potato Famine, that occurred in Ireland from 1845 to 1849 caused over one million to die from starvation and other diseases. Another two million emigrated during those years. The effects of the famine were so far-reaching that the population of Ireland in 1921 was half of what it had been in the early 1840s. So where did all the emigrants go? Many came to the United States and ended up in the larger cities such as New York or Boston. It’s estimated that just over 10 percent, or more than 33 million people, of the United States, can claim Irish ancestry. That’s no small potatoes!

With so many Irish Americans, chances are that you have an Irish ancestor. The Midwest Genealogy Center has many resources to help with your research. If you happen to be in MGC, try FindMyPast, an in-library use only database that has several collections related to Irish research in the United States. For example, you can search "Irish Death Notices in American Newspapers" or "Irish Marriage Notices in American Newspapers" within FindMyPast’s Irish records. These two collections can help you find dates, places, and family names of your Irish American ancestors. If you’re looking for which ancestor came to the U.S., "Irish Famine Immigrants, 1846-1851" includes passenger arrival lists for the Port of New York specifically during the years of the Great Famine. The Family Tree Irish Genealogy Guide contains helpful research tips for beginners as well as the more experienced genealogists.

Spend a little time digging into the records at MGC. You may find out that your ancestor survived the Irish Potato Famine and came to America to make a new life. Who would have thought potatoes could change the course of history and affect our ancestors in life-changing ways?

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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