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Welcome to “Moving Beyond ‘Rags to Riches.” We created this site to give students, scholars, and anyone interested in history access to more than 1,000 original documents chronicling the lives of New York’s pre-Civil War immigrant community. Our work focuses in particular on the “Famine Irish” who came to New York by the tens of thousands annually in the late 1840s and early 1850s to escape the devastating potato blight that destroyed their main source of food and brought about one of the most deadly famines in recorded history. Several hundred thousand refugees from this humanitarian crisis poured into New York, often settling in the city’s most decrepit slums. We’ve chosen about 400 of these immigrants—representing a cross-section of the Irish immigrant experience—and gathered documents (including census records, ship manifests, news accounts, and even their bank records) to allow you to understand how they survived and, in many cases, ultimately thrived in America. We’ve also provided photos, historical prints, and interactive maps so you can fully immerse yourself in the New York immigrant experience. Whether you are a student looking for a presentation, research paper, or thesis topic, a teacher looking to engage your students, or just a history buff, there is something exciting here for you.


The Moving Beyond "Rags to Riches" project was made possible with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences of the George Washington University.