Dundee Society in the 19th Century

Guide to Researching Irish Family/Social History in Dundee.

This guide was produced by Lorraine Dodman, 3rd Year MA undergraduate at the University of Dundee as part of a week-long placement in Dundee City Archives.

The Irish have a long association with Scotland and in particular Dundee, which can be traced back to the times of St Columba, through to Cromwell’s siege of the city and on to the influx of immigrants in the 19th century. Attracted by the opportunities available for work in the textile, building, shipping and railway construction trades many Irish born men, women and children travelled to Dundee to seek work. Records held by Dundee City Archives Department can help to trace individuals or research the Irish population in Dundee. This guide is concerned mainly with the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Needless to say, the best way to begin your search is to have as much information to hand as possible. Family papers such as diaries, birth, death and marriage certificates, family bibles which may include a family tree and anecdotal evidence from other (often older) members of your family will aid the search for those wishing to trace family connections. Armed with this information the following sources should be of benefit:

The Howff Burial Registers

These are available in 6 volumes covering the period 1772-1855. The information given in the registers varies with the later volumes containing more details. From 11th February 1821 (vol 2), the registers contain the place of birth (where known), which will begin to detail the Irish-born residents of Dundee who were buried at the Howff. Information contained in these registers includes: Name; Occupation; Age; Cause of death; Last place of residence; Date of death.
In respect of those listed as Irish-born, generally the county of birth rather than the town is given i.e. Roscommon. The general trend shows an increase in burials of Irish-born people. Results gained using random sampling show that for men and women the largest majority of immigrants were originally from King’s County (now known as County Offaly), followed by Cavan and Tyrone. *

*These random dates include the year 1849 when there was a cholera epidemic in Dundee.

The details given on the trade of the deceased show that the vast majority of men were involved in the textile/weaving trades or were general labourers while for women, the textile/weaving industry is by far the most common occupation where one is supplied. There are also a number of references to soldiers of Irish Regiments and those listed as ‘old soldiers and pensioners’ who were originally from Ireland.
Thanks to the information on ages, the records show that many children who were born in Ireland travelled to Dundee at a relatively young age (the youngest found being 6 weeks old) and died there. There are many entries for stillborn children and children born in Dundee but these do not indicate if the families were of Irish origin. It may be possible that many would have considered their children ‘Irish’ even though they were born outside of Ireland and so the actual ‘Irish community’ in Dundee can reasonably be said to be larger than these records show.
The registers also show the areas of Dundee where the Irish lived, some of the most common entries being Scouringburn, Overgate, Horsewater Wynd and Hilltown.
To see an online database of the Howff Burial Records, click on the link Howff Records.

Dundee Industrial School Records and Database

This register lists boys from 11th June 1855 to 6th July 1944 and girls from 18th May 1891 to 20th February 1924 who were admitted to the school. Having checked through these records, of 3394 boys admitted, 41 were born in Ireland, 473 of their fathers and 385 of their mothers were listed as Irish. No girls are recorded as Irish-born. However, 25 fathers and 25 mothers from 873 entries are listed as Irish. The records show the parents’ occupations, whether they had siblings and notes or remarks, which were deemed relevant i.e. whether the parents were deceased, debilitated etc. This information is sorted by admission date on both the original and database. (Industrial School Page)

Dundee Poor House (East) General Register of Inmates and Database

The two earlier registers detail the periods 1856-1878 and provide information, which includes the county of birth of those applying for admission. On average, just under 20% of those listed were Irish-born. The information given may also include the religious denomination, trade, illness, cause of death and general conduct whilst in the house of the inmate. The later register only lists the names of those admitted and covers the period 1935-1956.
The database run by the Friends of Dundee City Archives is still an ongoing project. At present c.8, 500 entries are on file with another 3,000 waiting to be input from the card index files which are themselves still being processed. The database shows the information as listed on the register and is sorted by surname. Access to this database is only through the Dundee City Archives, but an online database index to the register, with part of the information on each pauper is available elsewhere in this website. To search the online database of poor records, close this box and click 'Poor Register'.

Liff and Benvie Poor Register

This record has been particularly useful for Irish research given that the numbers of Irish-born entries is particularly high and the information provided very insightful. The register covers the period 1857-1864 and the information therein includes birthplace of applicant, names and ages of dependants, those liable by law to support the applicant, cause of application and how much aid out to them. Applications were made for outside assistance as well as admission. Taking April as the sample month, of the 1,054 entries, 461 of these are from Irish-born applicants, which equates to 43.74% of the total. This does not include wives and children of the applicant since their place of birth is not given. As with the Howff Register, the Irish community may constitute a larger number than implied from this Register.
The database for the Liff & Benvie Register is incorporated with the Dundee Poor House (East) information and is only available at Dundee City Archives, but an online database index to the register, with part of the information on each pauper is available elsewhere in this website. To search the online database of poor records, click this link (Liff and Benvie)'.

Other Sources Available

There are a host of associated sources held at Dundee City Archives including police records, court transcripts, maps and hospital burial records. These may be of use, for example in follow up searches.
A number of helpful website addresses are available on-line, some of which are listed below.

Official website of Dundee City Archives
Official website of the Scottish Archives Network
The website of the Ireland Genweb Project which provides information on genealogy
Provides sources, including an index of Irish wills
Provides a service for searching for your ancestors


Iain D. McIntosh, 2022