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.
Materials, Equipment, and Student
Follow-up, Extension, and
National History Standards
- Standards in Historical Thinking 4: Historical
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with historical documents.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
- 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
- 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.
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
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
Students should be familiar with the material in the
Historical Background section of this lesson.
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
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.)
- What occupations did Irish and German immigrants
- Were certain occupations dominated by Irish or
- Did Irish and German-born Americans marry
- Were Irish or German immigrants discriminated
against by native-born Americans?
- 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
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.
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?