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Emigrant Letters

A new collection of emigrant letters is now viewable at the University of Galway. Thanks to the work of American historian Kerby Miller, we can now get a deeper understanding of our ancestors after the left their homes. The collection spanned several decades, has over 150,000 pages and has 7,000 complete letters, fully searchable under several different headings. The letters take in a period from the late 1600s to the latter half of the twentieth century.

"I wanted to find out what ordinary Irish emigrants thought about life in the United States, about leaving home, the struggle for housing and employment and that really set me off to looking for the kinds of documents that would detail how they really felt," said Professor Miller. Things he says, "be they capitalism or imperialism, that were for the most part beyond these individuals’ control, that created the circumstances that impelled, encouraged, obliged or forced them to emigrate and come to America."

The results make for fascinating, deeply personal letters, that have a universal resonance. You can search the full collection HERE. Let us know if you can contribute something and we'd be delighted to put you in touch with the project team over at the University of Galway. Email us at

The university is appealing for additional material from people around the country, to add to the archive.

Professor Breandán Mac Suibhne says he has no doubt that there’s a "massive volume of material" in attics, presses, wardrobes or boxes around the country, that would shed further light on the emigrant experience.

He is particularly keen to access letters sent by Irish speakers, written in either Irish or English, that would reflect the experience of those who left Gaeltacht communities.

We hope you have found the information we have shared helpful. While you are here, we have a small favour to ask. Ireland Reaching Out is a non-profit organisation that relies on public funding and donations to ensure a completely free family history advisory service to anyone of Irish heritage who needs help connecting with their Irish place of origin. If you would like to support our mission, please click on the donate button and make a contribution. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated and makes a difference. 

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