The Numbers Lie

This week I skimmed through a few secondary sources on Irish Immigration that I found in my college library. A particular section about immigration number inacuracies from the book cited below caught my attention. It was completely new and interesting information. Although we knew that some immigrants came to the US via Canada, we had no idea just how many and this book helped put that in perspective.

Leaving Europe on ships bound for Canada was often cheaper than sailing to America. Many such travelers came into North America via Newfoundland, New Brunswick, or Quebec City. There were a few who could not afford the trip to Boston by boat so they walked the nearly 600 miles to North Adams. The actual numbers of immigrants that came over land of over sea are unknown, and at best can only be guessed at.  While there are figures showing those who sailed directly from Ireland to America, those that took a less direct route are not counted in those figures. Some Irish immigrants traveled through England and left from English ports. Some records may show that the passengers were originally from Ireland, but not all do. Additionally, during the 1800s the border between the US and Canada was far more fluid than today. Irish immigrants who simply walked across the border and into the US by way of Maine and other areas of New England would not be included in immigration numbers, as it wasn’t until the early 1900s that such land migrations were really recorded. One estimate believes that anywhere from between 1/4 and 1/7 of all Irish Immigrants into the US would have gone unrecorded. In essence, the true number of Irish immigrants that made the perilous Atlantic crossing to begin new lives in North America can never be known.

O’Sullivan, Patrick. The Irish in the New Communities. London: Leicester University Press, 1997.