In 1709, after a bitterly cold winter that saw
the devastation of their farms and vineyards, more than ten thousand people
from the German Palatinate travelled up the Rhine and sailed to England. A third of these people, all Protestants,
were sent to Ireland where they formed a unique enclave amidst the larger
Catholic population. Over time, they
lost their German identity and became Irish, and like the Irish, they immigrated
to British North America in droves. They
were instrumental in bringing Methodism to the New World and adapted well to
their new country. What made them stand
out in Ireland—their German customs, their Protestantism within a largely
Catholic country—were no longer distinctive once they settled in Canada. They immigrated to Canada as “Irish” people,
not “Irish Palatines,” and they melted into a Canadian identity like other
British and European immigrants.
How, then, is it possible to find the Irish
Palatines in Canada when they appear in the records as “Irish”?
The key is tracing surnames. Most surnames are distinctive—such as
Brethour, Corneil, Dulmage, Fizzell, Shouldice, Switzer, Teskey—and for those
names that are more common—such as Baker, Lowe, Lawrence, Young—one can often
be proven Palatine by association since the Irish Palatines, like most
immigrant groups, tended to settle together.
Armed with a knowledge of surnames from the limited settlement locations
in Ireland, a researcher can search for those surnames in the usual Canadian
genealogical and historical records.
Despite some significant gaps in Irish
records, there are two early lists of Palatine families in Ireland, one taken
in 1715 and another in 1720. Additional
eighteenth and nineteenth-century records including freeholder lists, tithe
applotment books, Griffith’s Valuation, and parish registers provide further
evidence of population growth and spread.
Taking a transatlantic approach is necessary not
just for discovering names, but also for understanding the local circumstances
that drove the Irish Palatines to leave Ireland and immigrate to North
America. From rent increases in the
mid-eighteenth century to agrarian violence and famine in the nineteenth, the
evidence is found in petitions, outrage papers, estate records and
Digitization of key Irish and Canadian records
makes the task of following the Irish Palatine immigrants from one side of the
Atlantic Ocean to the other that much easier.
Carolyn Heald authored The Irish Palatines in Ontario: Religion, Ethnicity, and Rural Migration, and co-edits the Irish Palatine Association Journal. She is a director of the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Irish Palatine Special Interest Group and a recipient of the Eula C. Lapp Award for significant contributions to Irish Palatine genealogy.
The Irish Palatine presentation is part of Course ONE of the CGVRI.