Irish Speakers & the Empire City is a collaborative endeavor to try to identify and record the household information of residents of New York City born in Ireland who claimed Irish (Gaelic) as their mother tongue on the 1910 census.

All are welcome to participate in this project as volunteer demographers by first completing the tutorial and then selecting a block or street to browse and transcribe.

New: Take a look at the progress of the project to date and its preliminary findings.

Why Irish? Why 1910?

It is estimated that somewhere between 54,000 and 75,000 speakers of the Irish language were resident in New York City between the end of the Civil War and the early twentieth century–approximately 20-25% of the overall Irish population in the city. Irish was, in other words, one of the many languages spoken in this dynamic immigrant city other than English at the turn of the century–albeit one whose history has been difficult to track down.

Beginning with the 1910 count, however, census takers in the U.S. began recording the mother tongue of anyone born outside of the U.S., as well as the mother tongue spoken by any foreign-born father or mother of those captured in the census. For the first time, significant linguistic information about the U.S. can be recovered, especially for small pockets of minority-language speakers.

How does it work?

Starting in the fall of 2013, students in New York University’s Global History of the Irish Language class at Glucksman Ireland House will oversee the transcription of the data by any interested participants. Because of the large population of New York in 1910, the first stage of the project will focus on an 18-block section of the west side of Manhattan bounded by 8th and 10th Avenues and running from West 14th St. to West 31st. The map to the right shows the initial search area.

Participants will be able to select a 1-2 block area from within the search region, review an extract from the household returns (made available thanks to the Internet Archive), and record the household information of any individuals or their parents noted as having Irish as a mother tongue. This data will then be compiled for student research into the demographic features of New York’s Irish-speaking residents in 1910. Once sufficient data has been collected, the transcribed entries will also be posted for the use of interested researchers.