28 February 2012

Weaving families together in Lowell, Massachusetts

Boott Cotton Mill (credit: Jlpapple)
Recently, my neighbor asked if I could research her father’s genealogy so she could present him with a framed pedigree chart. She had a few names, some dates, all centered on Irish families who settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, years after the Irish potato famine (1845-1852).In the 1820s, Lowell started as a planned textile manufacturing community on the shores of the Merrimack River. In the decades following the Great Hunger, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of individuals arriving on our shores, specifically to work in mills and factories in Lowell. Known as the “cradle of the Industrial Revolution,” it was a popular destination on ship manifests. Brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins sometimes arrived separately, lured by the promise of steady employment. Trying to weave these families back together becomes the challenge, but it can be done.

I started with a husband and wife who married in the 1930s. Luckily, the man had a somewhat uncommon name, so it was easy finding them on the Social Security Death Index. With birth dates in hand, I found their birth records on FamilySearch.com and AmericanAncestors.org. Both were born in Lowell. However, the husband’s parents came in the 1870s and 1880s in family groups, while the wife’s parents came here seemingly alone.

Using censuses, obituaries, and online cemetery indexes, I was able to recreate these families—not as mere pedigrees but as trees with branches. Without collateral relatives, I would have been lost. Sure, I was able to fill in the pedigree chart to the 5th or 6th generation (21 individuals), but that required a total of 137 individuals and 48 marriages to complete!

Resources in Lowell

Here are a few resources that will help you find relatives in Lowell.
Cemeteries in Lowell: