As I often reiterate, the greatest value of the widows’ and dependents’ Civil War Pension Files lies not in what they contain about the American Civil War, but in what they tell us about 19th century Irish emigrants and emigration. There are few finer examples of this than the file associated with Charles Greaney. The documents within it allow us to trace his origins in Ireland down to the laneway he likely grew up on, and the road on which he walked to work. They allow us to meet his family and friends, and learn how they interacted with each other in Ireland. His 1850s letters– after emigration– reveal the ties between east Kerry and Massachusetts, while the statements of others show the same connections between east Kerry and Chicago. In their words we can ‘see’ 19th century Kerry accents, and discover how entirely illiterate family groups could communicate across oceans.
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