New York Emigrants Savings Bank Records – A Resource for Irish American Research

by Carolyn L. Barkley

Banks seem to have undergone a transformation in America, moving from staid and secure sounding titles like First National Bank of (fill in the blank) to such seemingly meaningless names as “Sovran,” and “Cigna.” When I was in Cincinnati recently, I was amused by the “Fifth Third Bank” – what happened, I wondered, to the first, second, third and fourth Third Bank? That in turn reminded me of George Carlin’s riff on business names in which he stated, “Attending college at a place called Bob Jones University is like putting your money in Nick & Tony’s Bank.” In case you are beginning to wonder how these comments are pertinent to a genealogical article, read on.

Late last summer I was traveling through mid-town Manhattan en route from JFK to the Holland America cruise line terminal. As I looked out of the airport shuttle window at various businesses along the way, I noticed a building with a sign reading “Emigrants Bank.” Somehow, this sign seemed to encapsulate the essence of New York City and its melting-pot history. My later research about this storied bank underscored just how important it was to the Irish emigrant community in New York, and specifically in New York City. As such, its records, now housed by the New York Public Library (NYPL), hold a wealth of genealogical information.

The Emigrants Industrial Savings Bank was established in 1850 near the end of the mass migrations due to the Irish famine (1844-1851). The bank’s formation was a result of efforts on the part of the Irish Emigrant Society (which assisted new immigrants through its strong emphasis on employment, appropriate moral and spiritual behavior, self-sufficiency, and mutual aid), and John Hughes, himself an Irish immigrant, who would later become the first Catholic archbishop of New York. It would prove to be an institution that safeguarded the hard-won savings of the Irish immigrant population living in New York City, although those living outside of the city may also have established accounts in order to send money to family members still living in Ireland.

The bank’s records are divided into five types of books:

  • Index Books provide access to all of the individuals in the records. These entries provide the name of the depositor, the date of the record, and the account number. The account number is important as it allows you to identify index entries pertaining to a single individual.
  • Test Books (1850-1868) are perhaps the most significant volumes genealogically. The bank recorded information about the depositor and, often, about his family because, in an age without picture IDs, it was important for the bank to be able to distinguish one depositor from another of the same name. Information includes the date of the record, name of the depositor, account number, occupation, residence in this  country, and remarks. This latter section is particularly important as it often listed a date and place of birth, date of emigration, name of the ship on which an individual arrived, and the names of parents and/or spouse. In some cases the number of children is also noted. These test book records often provide information, often unavailable elsewhere, that will lead you to other U.S. records and may provide access to research in Ireland.
  • Transfer, Signature, and Test Books (1850-83) contain no new depositor records. Instead, they document changes to previously established accounts. Such changes might include a new signature, a new address, or a change in the account holder. By consulting the listed changes, including the transaction date, residence, occupation, birth year, birthplace and family information, you may be able to construct an immigrant’s timeline.
  • Deposit-Account Ledgers are arranged by account number and contain the transaction history for each depositor.
  • Real Estate Books record loans, mortgages, bonds and other real estate transactions as the Irish community became upwardly mobile. As such, they include date of approval of a loan or mortgage, name of the mortgagee, house number, size of the lot, description of the building, amount of the loan, name of the attorney, and usually a plat map of the block.

Emigrant Savings Bank records were donated to NYPL in 1990. While they are accessible there on microfilm, has digitized the Index, Test, and Transfer, Signature and Test Books, as well as the Deposit-Account Ledgers in its database, New York Emigrant Savings Bank, 1850-1883. (Please note that access to this database requires a personal membership or access to AncestryPlus at your local library.) The Real Estate Books may be accessed on microfilm at NYPL.

When searching, you can structure your search by name, birth year and location, an additional event and location, and a keyword. As with any initial search, however, I believe that less is more. In some cases, an individual may be in the database, but will prove to be irretrievable as the information in the database does not match closely enough the search terms you have entered. My initial searches, therefore, begin with a surname, or a surname/first name  combination only. If such a search results in too large a list, I can then use selected additional search terms to help narrow the choices.

For purposes of illustration, I chose three individuals: Rose Holdcraft, William Barclay and John Conroy.

Rose Holdcraft’s index entry indicated that she was from co. Louth in Ireland. As my previous research into James Patrick Holdcraft has identified that his mother’s name was Rose McCabe and that the Holdcraft family lived in co. Louth, I have always been intrigued about the identity of this New York City Rose Holdcraft, whom I have encountered from time to time in my broader Holdcraft research. A search in the bank database for Rose Holdcraft resulted in an Index Book entry which indicated that she held account number 35986. It is useful, when looking at the record abstract, to click on “View Other Records Associated with this Account Number.” By doing so, I located the Test Book entry1 for account 35986. The transaction, dated 7 August 1863, indicated that Rose lived at 10 E. 37th Street and was employed as a domestic. She had emigrated in 1861 and, if I am reading the script correctly, arrived in New York City aboard the Lord Dufferin. (After only a quick search, however, I have been unable to locate her passenger arrival record.) Rose was single, born in 1833 in co. Louth, Ireland, the daughter of James H. and Mary (Chrighton/Creighton) Holdcraft. (It would be interesting to conduct further research to discover if James Patrick Holdcraft, born in co. Lough in 1836, and Rose Holdcraft, born there in 1833, might be related.) Don’t stop your search in the records too soon, however. There is also a Rose Holdcraft indexed as holding account #69388. Looking at the records associated with that account number, I located a January 1869 Transfer, Signature and Test Book entry2 that appears to pertain to the same Rose Holdcraft, as all information is identical, with the exception of the account number and the fact that only her mother’s name was listed, perhaps indicating that her father had died between 1863 and 1869. There is no index link between the two accounts.

William Barclay held account number 25300. The index led to a Test Book entry,3 dated 7 September 1860, indicating that William was born ca. 1837 in Sligo, Ireland, the son of Robert and Sarah (Alford) Barclay. He arrived in New York City on 29 September 1857 aboard the Prince Albert. At the time of the 1860 bank entry, he was single, living at 13 Elm Street, and employed as a waiter.

John Conroy held account number 40612. His Test Book entry,4 dated 11 May 1864, stated that he was born in Galway, Ireland, in 1830, arriving in New York City in 1850 aboard the Guy Mannering. A tanner by trade, John lived in  Shindeacon [sic] in Ulster County, New York. He was married to Elizabeth Kelly and had three children. I decided to see what other records I could locate based on the clues provided in the Test Book record.

  • I easily located John and Elisabeth [sic] in the 1860 federal censusliving in Shandaken, Ulster County, New York. John was 28; Elisabeth was 23; and they had a son, Thomas, aged four months. By trade, Thomas was a “hyde dresser.” I was unable, in the time available, to locate the family in subsequent censuses. Further research may locate them.
  • I then checked for a passenger arrival record, as the bank record had provided a specific ship’s name, the Guy Mannering, and an arrival date, 1850. Three John Conroys arrived in New York City aboard this particular ship, one on 16 June 1851,6 one on 11 April 1857,and one on 20 December 1860.The earliest of the three arrival records states that John Conroy was born ca. 1831, was a 20-year-old farmer, sailing from Liverpool with a destination of Albany, New York. The next record documents John Conroy, a 26-year-old laborer, also sailing from Liverpool. Unfortunately, this arrival record does not provide any destination information. Although the first record was close to the date specified in the bank record, the description of “farmer” does not seem to match John’s occupation of tanner, let alone the fact that, geographically, Ulster County is located at some distance from Albany. Although the second arrival record is dated six years later than the year indicated in the bank record, this John was a laborer, and thus a better fit with “tanner.” In addition, he arrived on the same ship with a Thomas Conroy, born in 1833, and also a laborer. It is therefore interesting to note that John and Elizabeth’s first child was named Thomas. The third John Conroy was a 21-year-old laborer, again sailing from Liverpool. He was, however, accompanied by Mary Conroy, a 35-year-old spinster, and Biddy Conroy, a 17-year-old spinster. Without further information, however, it is not possible to prove which arrival record might belong to John Conroy of Shandaken, Ulster County, New York.
  •’s database, New York Genealogical Records, 1675-19209 includes a John Conroy, laborer, living in Rondout, Ulster County, New York, in 1857. This record would seem to rule out the arrival record of the John Conroy who arrived in 1860.
  • I was also able to locate John Conroy’s Civil War Draft Registration Card10 which lists his age, as of 1 July 1863, as 37 (therefore born about 1826). It further indicated that he was a laborer living in Shandaken, New York, located in the 13th Congressional District. Further research in Union Provost Marshal Records (Record Group 110), as well as in service and pension records at NARA or Fold3 may provide additional information about potential Civil War service. (Please note that his occupation as tanner might have provided him with an exemption from military service.)

Today, Emigrant Bank remains in business as the oldest bank in New York City, with assets, as of 31 December 2009, of $12.9 billion dollars, in addition to more than $900 million in total equity capital.11 For genealogical researchers, however, Emigrant Bank records contain a much rarer and priceless asset, the documentation of Irish emigrants to New York City and New York State, providing often difficult-to- locate information about the individual prior to his or her emigration from Ireland. Once that information is established, a world of new research possibilities will unfold before you.


1 “New York Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883,” digital images, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), image for Rose Holdcraft, account no. 35986 (1863); citing “Test Books, NYPL microfilm *R-USLHG*Z1-815, roll 7, New York Public Library, New York City.”

2 “New York Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883,” digital images,  ( : accessed 30 May 2012), image for Rose Holdcraft,  account no. 69388 (1869); citing “Transfer, Signature and Test Books, NYPL  microfilm, *R-USLHG*Z1-815, roll 11, New York Public Library, New York City.”

3 “New York Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883,” digital images, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), image for William Barclay, account no. 25300 (1860); citing “Test Books, NYPL microfilm *R-USLHG*Z1-815, roll 6, New York Public Library, New York City.”

4 “New York Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883,” digital images, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), image for John Conroy, account no. 40612 (1864); citing “Test Books, NYPL microfilm *R-USLHG*Z1-815, roll 6, New York Public Library, New York City.”

5 1850 U.S. census, Ulster County, New York, population schedule, Shandaken, page 947, dwelling 1504, family 1454, John Conroy; digital image, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication M653, roll 872.

6 “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), List 727, line 6, image for John Conroy, age 20, arrived 16 June 1851 aboard the Guy Mannering; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 100.

7 “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), List 302, line 34, image for John Conroy, age 26, arrived 11 April 1857 aboard the Guy Mannering; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 172.

8 “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : accessed 31 May 2012), List 1206, line 28, image for John Conroy, age 21, arrived 20 December 1860 aboard the Guy Mannering; citing National Archives microfilm M237, roll 207.

9 “New York Genealogical Records, 1675-1920,” digital images, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), image for John Conroy; citing The Kingston and Rondout Directory (N.Y., N.Y.: William H. Boyd, 1857).

“U.S., Civil War Draft Registration Records, 1863-1865,” digital images, ( : accessed 30 May 2012), 13th Congressional District, volume 3 of 3, Class 2/3, A-Z, image for John Conroy (June 1863); citing various National Archives and Records Administration series.

11 “Emigrant Savings Bank. About Us. Emigrant Bank and Its Regional Banks Combined Statement of Financial Condition, December 31, 2009,” ( : accessed 30 May 2012).

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