The Year Was 1847…

Map from Historical Map Collection

The year was 1847. James Polk was president of the United States and the U.S. was embroiled in the Mexican American War (1846-48). A Yellow Fever epidemic affected New Orleans, and an influenza outbreak spread worldwide. In Philadelphia, the American Medical Association (AMA) was founded with goals to establish a code of ethics and create minimum requirements for medical education and training. And on July 24, Brigham Young led the first group of Mormon pioneers into Salt Lake Valley.

Across the world, Ireland was in the midst of the Great Potato Famine and waves of immigrants left their homes for America and other countries, often in the so-called “coffin ships.” In addition to starvation, in 1847 diseases like cholera, typhus, fever, dysentery, tuberculosis and smallpox spread through the country.

AWJ Editor’s Note:  To see a larger image, click on the map. members with access to the Historical Map Collection can view the image using the advanced viewer here.

21 thoughts on “The Year Was 1847…

  1. This is a terrific idea. The information is greatly helpful for ‘context’ and not overwhelming. Keep up this as a regular feature please!

  2. More information about epidemics please. It would help explain mysterious “disappears from record.” Ii have in mind: Ohio 1848 and Taylor County, IA in 1863.

  3. Just by chance did I discover this feature, and appreciate it very much.
    What good are just names, dates & locations without some idea of what the scenario was for our ancestors? This history heightens my sense that they were real live people who courageously endured many hardships every day of their lives.
    Even tho we are living in very different and difficult times, it reminds me that we truly have made progress towards a better world for our children. I find it inspirational.


  4. Wonderful addition, makes the dry ancestry search come to life. Thank you Ann Smith

  5. My great great grandfather came over from Ireland in 1852 – 1 year after the great famine was declared “over”. He was 12 and his parents must have been severly ill from the famine because they died on the ship in transit. I have not yet found them/him on a ship. Any suggestions as to where to look?

  6. I enjoyed this portion of the blog because it is a good timeline of what was happening in our ancestor’s lives. I would like to see it continued. Thanks.

  7. Please don’t refer to it as “The Great Potato Famine”. It makes it sound like the catastrophe was a natural disaster when the situation was, in fact, man made.

    The “Great Famine” will do.

  8. Mormon trail Maps

    The National Park service did a new map of the trail in 1997 and available at many museums and turist information centers along the trail route, which much be better then the 1947 map shown. For more detailed maps in Wyoming look for a study done for the BLM in federal archives collection in land grant collages. For Nebraska There are not many copies in libraries of my study of the trail done in 1997. Look for authors Carl Hugh Jones and Andy Grow “Mormon Trails in Nebraska. There is also a book on the Mormon trail in Iowa that has detailed maps and test. and a new book in at the press in the sacred places series covering Iowa and Nebraska.

    Finally if you are interested in the Mormon Handcart experiment 1856-1860 try

    Carl Jones, Nebraska Mormon Trail Association,

  9. “The year was 1847”. The condensed history capsule will be helpful to me. Also the historical map is a delight. God bless the Mormons for their painstaking record keeping. Phyllis Couch

  10. Just wondering about the 2nd paragraph which begins with “around the world” and then talks about the famine in Ireland. The last paragraph talks about the spread of disease “across the country”. Do these diseases refer to the to Ireland? In the context of the paragraph, it is unclear which “country” is referred to. This is important info so I want to be sure I am correctly interpreting this. Thanks!
    I really like this feature! Need more!

  11. I like this feature. To know what was going on in the US and the world gives suggestions as to where one might try looking for clues for some elusive ancestors. Please keep it.

  12. Thanks for this part of the Ancestry Weekly Journal. I love to find historical links to my ancestors. I have always heard of the “Great Potato Famine” and don’t see a need to change the name of it. Keep up the good work!

  13. The failure of the potato crop in Ireland during the 1840’s was caused by the fungus Phytophtora which probably arrived in Europe from North America in 1844. It caused wide spread distress throughout Northern Europe, not just in Ireland. The failure of the potato crop due to a variety of causes was a regular feature of rural life during the preceeding 150 years. The difference between the “Great Famine” and those that preceeded it was one of scale, previous failures tended to be fairly local. These factors combined with social conditions and a doctrinaire adherence to the principles of lassiez faire ecomomics produced the scale of the tragedy that occured in Ireland. The “Great Potato Famine” should be viewed in a wider context than a purely Irish one.

  14. I feel I must add to the previous comments re. the “potato famine” here in Ireland. Yes, the potato crop failed, & millions starved to death as the potato was their staple diet. There was, however, plenty of food in the country which the ruling class continued to export,refusing to feed the dying, whom they referred to as “lazy, ignorant peasants”. Ships laden with grain left Irish ports on a daily basis. A minority of landlords took pity on their tenants & dispensed food,others paid for the passage to America on “coffin” ships. The majority however turned the unfortunate populace out of their homes to live or die in the countryside.Death came to them from hunger, disease, & to many though eating grass to fill their empty stomachs. So although this tragic episode in our history has become known as the great famine, in modern terms it would be known as genocide. We call it “The Great Hunger”.

  15. Thank you for the information and comments about the year 1847.
    My Keenaugh members came from Ireland to England and left in
    1847 and came to the United States thru New Orleans. Thanks
    for the comments as they also added much to the article.

  16. I would like to thank Ian and Carol for their simple explanations of the history of the “Great Potato Famine”. In many cases I think that ‘recognition’ is more important than ‘politically correct’. If you say Potato Famine to almost any American over the age of 40 and possibly younger, they immediately think of Ireland / mid 1800’s, and the immigration of large numbers of Irish to America. Saying Great Famine or Great Hunger will not bring the same recognition, in fact great hunger personally reminds me of Ethiopia. In this kind of forum, I think recognition should be most important. However I will still welcome the explanations and extra details.

  17. Also in 1847 a new Liberal Government in London had set up a worldwide diplomatic effort to prevent war breaking out in Europe led by Viscount Palmerston (foreign secretary) and PM Lord John Rusell. The Spanish Matches or infanta marrisages in Spain threatened to end peace and stability in Iberia and start yet another bloody civil war. In France the foreign minister, Francois Guizot and the French King were on good terms with Queen Victoria, but revolution was around the corner. In Germany the problem of small independent states ready to fragment into war led to the emergence of a dominant Prussia attempting to bond unity of purpose, and their neighbour the Danish King feared the worst in his provinces of Schleswig-holstein. The Liberal government also had to contend with civil war in Papal States leading to the regime of the brutal tyrant King ‘Bomba’ Ferdinand of Naples committing atrocities. The Royal Navy rushed immediate supplies to the Irish, but too late. 1 million died in the famine 1847-8 and a further 2 million emigrated. 150 years later the population of Ireland was still below the 8 million it had supported in 1846. The disaster was catastrophic for the Anglican Church and established English rule of law on the island. The Fenian Brotherhood (sucessors to United Irishmen of 1798) began plotting with the Catholic Church to bomb and blow up English dignitaries and murder innocents. The Maynooth Seminary granted a sum by Peel’s Government in 1845 actively stirred up resentment and revolt against the Government. These simmering tensions led ultimately to the Great Revoultions of 1848 in Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Vienna, and the first democratic mass movement in London, the Chartists, whose liberal reformist character aimed to house the poor, gain working rights, and extend the franchise, as well as improve upon public health provisions already in place. Viscount Palmerston (himself an Irishman) emerged as one of the great Victorian diplomats and foreign secretaries, who revolutionized Fortifications along the coast of England in 1847 and appointed the Inspector-general of Fortifications. He also reformed the secretariat of Foreign Office to produce the first tested clerks in Whitehall with a truly professional outlook on foreign policy, and Britain’s responsibilities around the globe.

  18. In response to Kandi’s comments – far from trying to be “politically correct”, I was in fact trying to be historically correct.I do take your point about recognition of subject matter, however within that framework one must strive to give an accurate account of history. By all means use the lure of “potato famine” to draw the reader into the subject. In my opinion however,regardless of the forum, history is rendered pointless without truth. To draw an analogy between Ethiopia & the starvation in 19th century Ireland belies the fact that there was (and is)a real famine in Ethiopia,and a potato crop failure in Ireland. At the risk of repeating myself, there was an abundance of food here,no need for millions to die or be forced to emigrate, simply an uncaring attitude towards the native poor combined with relentless greed for financial profit.
    On my part,political correctness was not intended, nor implied.I certainly have no wish to offend anyone, but at the same time neither do I want to airbrush historical fact.

  19. I do not believe that the advanced feature is available for Macintosh users, along with a host of other visual features which we also do not get. For example, I cannot print the right hand side of census data at higher than 100% levels, which is VERY frustrating, especially as I used to be able to choose precisely what I wanted to photograh and what I didn’t, before Ancestry made improvements during the last year or so. Probably because Ancestry owns a PC genealogy program, loyal Apple users have had their needs neglected. Where computer type is not an issue, I do applaud the many improvements tht is implementing – they are most useful, and I am grateful for them. But fix the Apple lockout, please!

  20. I found this site while researching a Royal Navy Officer who was sent to Ireland at the time of the famine with a frigate and medical supplies. I was surprised to find that the BAD Brittish would do this. He found that it was a famine and not a terrible blight of human flesh and imediately sent word back to the BAD British. It seems that someone was careing.
    I come from the town of Greenock in Scotland, we too had a famine at that time. My town Greenock its inhabitants (Presbiterians) took upon themselves that if the Irish folk caught up in the famine could make it to them they would pay the passage to either the US,Canada or even Australia. Now COFFIN SHIPS? were I believe true but the captains of most of these ships were good men and did get from the Greenockians paying for the passage also put on supplies on board. They cannot be held resposable for what happened after the ship left port.
    If on arrival of these ships to the US and the passengers were found to be ill (Tuberculoisis) they would be returned to Greenock. My town of Greenock did not return these poorly people back to Ireland but kept them in the town. Where they they continued to live in their old Irish ways refusing to assimulate and medical help was the work of the devil. This lasted nearly one hundred years when during the 1930’s the area known as Vennel in Greenock was completely destroyed as a decease infested slum. TB was still rife because the squaller still existed, large families to one room appartments. These people who are by now Scotish were sent out to various areas through out the town where they lived I think a good and productive lives in the idustries of Greenock. It upsets me that the stupid propaganda of the ignorant Irish is allowed to preval because I know the people of the Clyde did care along with the people of the river Mersey. Use the internet to find the truth.
    Al Abernethy

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