There were two principle issues on the lips of mid-19th century East coasters. The first was the Federal Government’s execution of the Civil War. The second was the influx of Irish immigrants. 

Among these was Bartholomew McGowan, born in Sligo, Ireland in 1797. His death notice appeared in the March 24 1849 issue of The New York Herald, just two days after he passed, aged 52 years old. 

His address is listed in New York, which was swiftly becoming a hot-bed of gang rivalry, riots, and resentment against the ruling classes whose privilege cut deep into the hearts of those – like the Irish – for whom life under the rule of martial law and local kingpins could not be cushioned by wealth.

Birth and death notices from the era, like that of Bartholomew McGowan, can provide a wealth of information about characters both heroic and infamous. The New York City Death Notices, 1835-1880 collection on Findmypast includes data extracted from the New York Herald, Brooklyn Eagle, New York World and the Phoenix.

Among those immortalized on their pages was James “Jimmy” Haggerty, a man from Philadelphia who died in New York. According to the death notice from the New York Herald, he was murdered in Eagen’s Saloon on 25 Jan 1871. 

A bit of work in the Findmypast U.S. newspaper collection reveals that he was a known gang leader and bank robber, killed by Reddy the Blacksmith, and “Wild Jimmy”. These bloodthirsty fellows featured in the 1928 non-fiction book, "The Gangs of New York" by Herbert Asbury, which inspired the 2002 film of the same title. 

The telegraph, railroad, power printing press and the Civil War changed the tone of early US newspapers, as citizens were hungry for updates from the battlefields, which spurred the trend to list local activity. Personal events, such as births, marriages, and deaths were all deemed significant enough to be included. 

Newspapers became the go-to resource across the States for keeping up with your neighbors as well as staying connected to your ancestral homeland. These records are particularly vital for family historians, considering that the State of New York did not require a death certificate until 1880. 

Newspapers are one of our richest sources of local, national and personal history. Even the smallest mention of an ancestor in a newspaper can provide crucial details, offering a window into life as they knew it. 

Findmypast is working in partnership with Irish Central to create expert content around Irish family history. With the largest collection of Irish family history records online and a team of expert genealogists, findmypast is the best place to discover your Irish heritage.

* Originally published September 2015.