This book is unique in adopting a family history approach to Irish migration in nineteenth century Britain. Historians of the Irish in Britain have almost totally ignored the family dimension, but this study shows that the family was central to Irish peoples’ lives and experiences. It was the major factor influencing the life choices and identity of the migrants and their descendants. The book documents for the first time a representative sample of Irish immigrant families and uses the techniques of family and digital history to explore their long-term fate. To do this it examines the Irish in Stafford in the West Midlands, a town that was a microcosm of the broader Irish experience in England. Central to the book is a unique body of evidence about the lives of ordinary families. They were united by their Irish ethnicity and by living in the same town, but there the similarity ended. In the long term they diverged in different directions. Many families integrated into the local population, but others ultimately moved away whilst some simply died out. The case studies explore the reasons why the fate of these families proved to be so varied. The book reveals a fascinating picture of family life and gender relations in nineteenth-century England. Its provocative conclusions will stimulate debate amongst scholars of Irish history, genealogists, historians of the family and social historians generally. The book also offers some valuable historical parallels to the lives of contemporary immigrant families in Britain.
The book opens by arguing that a family history approach can throw new light on important issues relating to Irish migration to Victorian Britain, notably about Irish family lives, the long-term fate of immigrants and their descendants, as well as the significance of Irish ethnicity, gender, identity, locality and the Irish diaspora. The chapter reviews conceptual approaches to studying the history of families. Three research questions are discussed – identifying how families functioned in terms of family strategy and relationships, the specific impact of migration on families and how the family related to its wider social and economic context. Stafford’s value as a case study location is outlined and the methodology and sources are discussed. The work uses collective family biography or ‘prosopography’. The database at the heart of the project is described and the varied sources are reviewed. Interviews and evidence from descendants have been combined with digital history and documentary sources to construct the genealogies of settled families, narratives of their history and an assessment of the factors that determined their fates.