CURRENT ISSUE:  August 2023

Cleveland Irish: Mapping Cleveland


Cleveland Irish: Mapping Cleveland
By Francis McGarry

Culture is the shared values, ideas, concepts and rules of behavior that allows a social group to function and perpetuate itself. It is the dynamic, evolving, socially constructed reality that exists in the minds of social members, the social glue that allows members to communicate and work effectively together.

The focus of anthropology is the study of culture. History is the study of past events. The combination of the two, is ethnohistory or historical ethnohistory or various other terms that attempt to better articulate the approach of a historian of culture.

This historian spent the past holiday break working with my son on his statement of purpose for graduate school. The young McGarry is now in Cambodia, collecting samples to test arsenic levels in rice.

Aunt Irene is proud, but there is clearly confusion beneath the surface. I know in my heart of hearts she wants to ask what arsenic is and why anyone would put it in their rice.

“The San Francisco treat” in my family is trying to explain time zones. The entire time I lived on the West Coast, my more aged family folks would call and apologize if they had just awoken me. It was all just a ruse on their parts to cover the complete misunderstanding of time and location. When the chance arose to explain intranational times zones and the international date line, the smart ones went to the pub.

This corresponds to the recent discussions with the people at Social Explorer and their introduction to Mapping Historical New York, and it has given cause for me to make my own statement of purpose and focus the research of this article, so that it may prove to be more productive and a historical resource as we move forward in the study of the Irish in Cleveland, and Cleveland itself. I shall endeavor to complete such a statement of purpose at this point.

In terms of data, my research shall include the facts, figures, and statics in the US Census from 1850 to 1950. It will not dismiss the census of 1840, which set the stage for the history of the Irish in Cleveland and for my research, helping recognize aspects, both of the migration of the Irish to Cleveland and their internal migration once here, that I wanted to explore through further research and data compilation.

In order to record an accurate and detailed history of the Cleveland Irish, research needs to extract data from each census that identifies listed inhabitants according to the certain categories: age, gender, place of birth, parents’ place of birth, occupation, marital status, and year of naturalization. It is understood that data can shift to reflect, for example, political change.

The place of birth once referred to as Irish, then the Irish Free State, is more recently listed as the Republic of Ireland. It is also understood that supplemental data will be added as it becomes available. Including more data only serves to further historical conversation, and it ensures that all possible information is available for the historians that follow us into the future.

It is also my intention to develop a codable algorithm and incorporate it into the analyzing and recording of data. The Census has all the data, we need to be able access that 1850s data in a 2020s technologically applicable approach so that data may be analyzed and visualized over time.

Social Explorer ( begins to illustrates how much of an asset and advantage it is to be able to visualize aggregate data. It is a new site that begins to allow the researcher to combine comparable analytical data enumeration, both on macro and micro data inquiries. If you are familiar with pivot tables in Excel, then you already understand part of what Social Explorer is attempting to contribute to demographic studies. Social Explorer already has census data as their research data set; it is up to the researcher to select their comparative data sets. That gets us headed in the right direction.

This is research that has already been completed for this article. We have looked at Ward 5 in 1860; we have looked at 1880 wards in downtown Cleveland; we have looked at Wards 24, 25, and 27. That data is already in Excel sheets and created the pivot tables for the previous data analysis in this article. Social Explorer will assist us in completing that component with a more efficient and more accurate hermeneutical tool.

Our research spreadsheets remain more flexible and active for comparable studies. We can determine which categories to include while being able to track those categories to their source. We will work with Social Explorer for better integration.

It was Social Explorer that made the connection to Mapping Historical New York ( It is the next step and literally a new and ongoing approach to our research. Mapping Historical New York is a project based at Columbia University that was begun in 2018. It is as new as research gets, and they are just beginning their work.

“Mapping Cleveland” will utilize a similar approach to a living map, an interactive visual, conveying the history of Cleveland that is a tool allowing for both a horizontal and a vertical understanding of time. Using this type of model, the historical lens has a vertical perspective  through the vertical layers of “the map” while maintaining horizontal relationships and perspective. The mapping tool is as versatile as the data it processes.

That is the plan. I will transition the raw data from the US Census into a digitally interactive database. Components of population cohorts will be able to be visually analyzed over time and space, as both historic periods and cohorts of those periods and as cohorts as expressed over time. Mapping the historical data of Cleveland that will available to all future researchers of the past.

*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago. He is the Executive Director of Bluestone Hibernian Charities and proprietor of McGarry Consulting. Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side. He is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

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