Why did my Irish ancestors leave from Liverpool instead of Londonderry?
May 13, 2015 7:41 PM   Subscribe

My 3-greats grandfather departed Liverpool, England with all of his children for America and arrived here in New York on November 18, 1866. The thing is, I am as sure as I can be that he lived in Raphoe, Donegal, Ireland. Why would he go alll the way to Liverpool when Londonderry was so close?

I have his marriage record to my 3-greats grandmother, her death record, and baptismal records for all of his children (including my 2-greats grandfather) so the evidence that he lived in Raphoe isn't just circumstantial. What I don't get is, why would they all depart from Liverpool, England, which appears to be almost 400 miles away, instead of Londonderry, which is about 25 miles away? Was this a common occurrence or was it more likely that he lived in Liverpool for a time before coming to America?
posted by brownrd to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Was this a common occurrence?

Yes. That's where the bulk of the emigration ships embarked, especially as steam took over from sail:
From the 1830s to the 1860s the port of Liverpool emerged as the preferred port of embarkation for Irish emigrants destined for North America... The introduction of regular steamboat services in the 1820s to Liverpool and Glasgow from Derry facilitated the transport of intending emigrants from Derry to North America and Australia, via Liverpool and Glasgow.
Hub and spoke network.
posted by holgate at 7:58 PM on May 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, this is like "why would you fly out of Newark when LaGuardia was so close?" It comes down to price, travel dates, incentive, convenience. It's likely there was a better total price and therefore more incentive from Liverpool, where several passenger-ship companies were in competition and desperately wanting to fill their trans-Atlantic routes. They might have even bundled in a rail ticket.
posted by Miko at 9:09 PM on May 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Liverpool certainly had a large Irish population at the time, and was expanding rapidly, so it could serve as a temporary home (though not necessarily a pleasant one) if you needed quick work and cheap digs to earn the money for the steerage tickets, or a permanent home if you ultimately chose not to get on the boat. Perhaps your ggg-grandfather went out there first and lived in a boarding house until he had enough money to send for his family. Perhaps they had the money and simply stopped there along the way.

By the 1860s, as Miko notes, there was fierce competition between rival lines, which prompted them to set up their own boarding houses to prevent arrivals from being fleeced of their ticket money and belongings while in transit; they also produced pamphlets for emigrants with advice on the trip and arrival, while promoting their own services over their rivals'.
posted by holgate at 9:50 PM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There is actually a saying "You're not Irish just because your great-grandmother got off a boat from Liverpool" -- that's how standard embarking at Liverpool was.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:44 AM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My great-grandfather departed Europe for the US from Glasgow. He lived on Innismann, an island off the coast of Galway in Southern Island. It was very common.
posted by COD at 5:19 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Furthering what others here have said, it was very similar to a modern airline. Depending on the type and class of ticket and how price-sensitive you were, you could either buy a through ticket which included steamer service from another port to the long-distance port of embarkation, or you could assemble your own itinerary.

The big trans-Atlantic lines, like White Star and Cunard, had short-haul boats that ran to various points all over the UK and Ireland (and agreements with other lines for other ports). I think they also provided drayage services, so you could have the equivalent of through-checked baggage. All of this was optional, of course.

As a sidenote which you may or may not discover applies based on the ticket class and some other factors, emigrants sometimes avoided going through Ellis Island upon arrival to the US. Basically, if you had your paperwork in order before leaving (which maybe involved applying for entry or some sort of visa in the country of departure?), you would disembark at the pier in Manhattan and go on your way. The result, for you as a researcher later on, is that there's no record of entrance in any of the Ellis Island books/databases which are among the easiest to search.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Kain2048 they did not go through Ellis Island. He had previously given his Oath of Allegiance (he was here in 1834 and went back to Ireland) so I think you are correct in that respect.
posted by brownrd at 3:51 PM on May 14, 2015

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