Germans and Irish in
Augusta and Franklin Counties

Students will examine nineteenth-century newspapers, census manuscripts, and a last will and testament to explore aspects of the Irish and German immigrant communities in the 1850s and 1860s.

Instructional Objectives
Materials, Equipment, and Student Background Required
Historical Background
Follow-up, Extension, and Assessment


Instructional Objectives

National History Standards

  • Standards in Historical Thinking 4: Historical Research Capabilities
    Students should be able to
    • A. formulate historical questions from encounters with historical documents.
    • C. interrogate historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context in which it was created; testing the data source for its credibility, authority, authenticity, internal consistency and completeness; and detecting and evaluating bias, distortion, and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts.
  • Era 4: Expansion and Reform
    • Standard 2: Students should be able to explain how. . . increasing immigration. . . changed the lives of Americans. . .

Virginia Standards of Learning

  • C/T8.4 The student will use search strategies to retrieve electronic information.
  • 11.7 Students will analyze the impact of immigration on American life, in terms of contributions of immigrant groups and individuals; and ethnic conflict and discrimination.
  • 11.17 Students will develop skills in historical analysis, including the ability to analyze documents, records, and data, formulate historical questions and defend findings based on inquiry and interpretation, and communicate findings orally, in brief analytical essays, and in a comprehensive paper.

National Council for the Social Studies

  • II. Time, Continuity, and Change
    • a. Students will systematically employ processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and reinterpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, and searching for causality.
  • V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
    • a. Students will apply concepts such as role, status, and social class in describing the connections and interactions of individuals, groups, and institutions in society.
    • b. Students will analyze group and institutional influences on people, events, and elements of culture in both historical and contemporary settings.


Materials, setting, and student background required

This lesson will probably take several full class periods to complete.

This lesson is designed for a networked computer lab. There should be enough computers for each team of 2-4 students.

Print and copy the worksheets in advance.

Students should be familiar with all of the main functions of their computer's browser application.

An understanding of databases and database searches will be helpful for students searching the census records.

Students searching the newspapers should understand the difference between an abstract (a short summary of an article) and a transcription (the entire contents of an article).

Students should be familiar with the material in the Historical Background section of this lesson.


Historical Background

The years between 1830 and 1860 brought a huge wave of German and Irish immigration to the United States. During this period, over 1.9 million Irish and 1.5 million Germans migrated to America.

The Irish exodus was largely the result of the "potato famine" of the mid-1840s. The famine reduced Ireland's population from around 8 million to only 5 million. Although much of this reduction was the result of emigration, around 1 million died from starvation or starvation-related diseases.

Germans left their homelands for more varied reasons. Many sought an escape from poverty, and others fled the political repression that followed the failed democratic revolutions of 1848.



Go over Historical Background as needed.

Tell class that the objective of this lesson is to study immigrant communities in rural America in the 1850s and 1860s. In particular, students will be researching Irish and German-born residents of Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

Tell them that by the end of class (or however long you choose to take with this activity) you want the students to be able to answer the following questions. (It may be useful to write these on the board.)

  1. What occupations did Irish and German immigrants hold?
  2. Were certain occupations dominated by Irish or German immigrants?
  3. Did Irish and German-born Americans marry native-born Americans?
  4. Were Irish or German immigrants discriminated against by native-born Americans?
  5. Did Irish and German immigrants keep in touch with family and friends in the "Old Country?"

Tell the class that they will be answering these questions by working in small teams to explore a collection of historic documents from two mid-nineteenth century communities that had sizeable immigrant populations.

Divide class into five groups. Further divide each group into teams of 2-4 students. Hand out the following worksheets according to group.

When students have completed this task to your satisfaction (and it is likely that this will take more than one class period) reconvene a whole-class discussion. Have spokes people from each group present their findings. Then go back to the original questions (you may want to have them written on the board) and have students see how many of them they can answer from what they have learned.

Follow-up, Assessment, and Extension Ideas

Write a letter from a German or Irish-born resident of Franklin or Augusta County to family in the "Old Country" describing your life and the opportunities and difficulties presented by your new home. Make specific reference to facts you have learned in this class.

Write an essay on pre-Civil War immigration to America from Ireland and Germany that compares your textbook's description to what you have learned from your class's research on Augusta and Franklin Counties. To what extent is your textbook account supported by the material in the Valley archive?

This material was developed by Alice Carter for the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education.