The Irish immigrant story

It started with a text message from my son. He was looking for “our family’s immigrant story” for a college class.

“Which one do you want?” I asked him. “Bohemian, Irish or Polish?”.

Irish was his response.

I fired up my database program and sat down to write a quick story about my great-grandfather John Reilly’s voyage to America.

Then something strange happened. I noticed a date. Actually a year. 1905 to be exact. The year John Joseph Reilly left Dublin, Ireland and traveled to America courtesy of his aunt Alice Cusack.

I’ve written about John’s travel to America before. I’ve known about his 1905 ship passenger record for about 10 years. But until just four days ago the date never clicked for me.

If John Reilly traveled to America in 1905 that means he was living across an ocean 4,000 miles away in Chicago, when his father Andrew Reilly died in Ireland in 1908.

Ten years ago this little fact did not stop me in my tracks. But now after losing my own father this past year, it did.

The Andrew Reilly family in Ireland prior to John's departure to America

The Andrew Reilly family in Ireland prior to John’s departure to America

My reaction to this find was both emotional and exciting. Emotionally because I could now offer some empathy to the great grandfather who only shows up in the margins of my memory. Did John mourn for his father? Did he feel guilt at not being with his mother and siblings as they mourned? Six short years later John named his 1st born son after his father.  No doubt a common Irish tradition, but in this case it is also a poignant reminder of his father buried in Ireland.

The excitement I felt after this discovery was due to the possibility of finding some missed genealogy clues. Did John return to Ireland for his father’s funeral? If so, there could be more ship passenger records to find. Or possibly a passport application.  Was there mention of Andrew’s death in a Chicago neighborhood newspaper? What about the correspondence between John and his family?  Does that still exist?

I guess that is what family history is all about. Uncovering the questions and facts that make up our unique story.

#52Stories #2017

Who was John Reilly’s Aunt?

In a previous post I mentioned that John Reilly’s passage to America was paid by his aunt Ms. Cusack of Lawndale Avenue in Chicago.  Because John arrived in America in 1905, we can hope that his aunt can be found in the 1900 census.

Sure enough.  The 1900 census lists Alice Cusack, age 31, living with her husband Patrick and four children at 851 S. Lawndale.  According to the census information, Alice Cusack was born in Ireland in October of 1868.  She immigrated to America in 1881 and had lived in the city of Chicago for 18 years.  Her husband Patrick Cusack’s occupation is listed as a “foreman” (or “fireman” ) at an organ company.  Patrick Cusack may have been instrumental in finding John Reilly a job once he arrived in Chicago due to the fact that in the 1910 census we find John’s occupation as a “piano polisher”.

But that’s later.  Now I want to find out more information on Patrick and Alice Cusack.

Patrick and Alice were married in Chicago on July 1, 1890 in Chicago at St. Patrick’s church.  Their marriage certificate lists Alice’s maiden name as O’Brien.  Her children’s birth certificates also list her maiden name as O’Brien.

Now I know Alice and Elizabeth’s maiden name was O’Brien. Maybe I can find out more information about her life in Ireland before she followed her oldest son John Reilly to America.

John Reilly’s Arrival in the States

I’m reading an excellent book right now titled Island of Hope, Island of Tears.  The book features actual interviews of immigrants to the United States and highlights their experiences at Ellis Island and some of the reasons why many left home.  It is interesting to note that during the great migration period of 1892-1918, many individuals crossing the ocean were sponsored by a family member already living in America.

Such is the case of my great grandfather John Reilly. John Reilly left Ireland from the port of Queenstown, Ireland on January 19, 1905.  He traveled for nine days aboard the ship “The Baltic”.  Upon arriving in New York on January 28th, John listed his aunt, Ms. M. Cusack of 851 Lawndale, Chicago, as the “relative or friend” that he was going to join in the United States.  His ship passenger record also states that it was his “aunt” who purchased the ticket on his behalf.  John arrived with $8.00 to his name.  One can only imagine how he managed to get to from New York City to Chicago on $8.00. 

Here is a copy of the front page of the New York Times on the day John arrived in America.