27 June 2013


     I have long been fascinated by the Nativist riots that exploded against the Irish immigrants in Philadelphia in 1844. Many of my Irish ancestors lived in the area affected by the riots and attended the churches that were attacked and burned. So, when I heard that Philadelphia local historian and genealogist Kenneth W. Milano recently published The Philadelphia Nativist Riots: Irish Kensington Erupts (Charleston: The History Press), I contacted him immediately (well, right after purchasing the book!).

    Even if your immigrant ancestors did not live in Philadelphia, Kenneth's book sheds light on the hardships and discrimination that Irish immigrants often faced after arriving in the United States.
DEBORAH: Why should a family historian research the local history of their ancestral places?
KENNETH: "Local history allows us to put meat on the bones of our family trees...it fills in the picture of what life must have been like to live, work and worship during various time periods, even if our family was not famous or even mentioned. If researching your family history, it would be wise to seek out the local historian from the area (every area seems to have at least one), as they may be able to reveal information about your family, tell of little used sources, etc..."
DEBORAH: When and how did you become interested in the riots of 1844?
KENNETH: "My interest in the history of Kensington and Fishtown [Philadelphia neighborhoods where the rioting occurred] naturally led me to the Riots of 1844. As a practicing Catholic, this also intrigued my interest. I had written about the riots when I had my weekly history column in the Fishtown Star (2007-2011). After the column ended, I went back and picked out the material I wrote up on the riots. At the same time, a friend asked me to research the history of St. Michael's, in particular, to write biographies of the founders of the church, which wound up being many of the men who had properties damaged during the riots."
DEBORAH: Did any aspect of the riots or of Irish Philadelphia history surprise you?
KENNETH: "It was rather amazing that about half of the rioters were teenagers (on both sides), and that twelve year old Robert McQuillan (whose descendants I met) was given one year in prison for throwing rocks during the riots. It was also amazing that the Nativist Party had a theological arm, 100 ministers from various denominations in Philadelphia, particularly Presbyterian, who signed a constitution to form the American Protestant Association, which was basically an anti-Catholic society. These were men of the cloth? Why should we be surprised that the men in the streets were rioting if their preachers were egging them on?"
DEBORAH: Where did you find sources for your book?
KENNETH:  "The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia City Archives, both have several court registers which were helpful in figuring out who was arrested and tried for the riots. Old newspapers available from genealogybank.com were also very helpful in reading through the court testimony of the articles to be able to give a "blow by blow" account. Biographies were compiled for the leaders of the riots (on both sides) by using the normal methods of old newspapers, vital records, church records, census and city directories. Histories of the event, histories of the churches involved, participants' memoirs, and contemporary diaries/letters were also very helpful."
DEBORAH: As a genealogist, do you have any advice for family history researchers?
KENNETH: "I never found a reason to hire a genealogist who is not based in the city where you need research done. I always hire folks who live in the city where I need research conducted. For example, why hire someone in Utah, if you need research done on a family who lived in Philadelphia? I would also use local experts, and if they are not helpful, then move out from there..."
     Kenneth W. Milano, who graduated cum laude in American History from Temple University in 1995,  has been doing genealogical and historical research for over twenty years. He has been taking clients since 2004. Kenneth also catalogues historical manuscripts for the book selling firm of Michael Brown Rare Americana LLC in Philadelphia. His website is www.kennethwmilano.com , where information on his genealogical and historical research services and publications can be found.
     Besides writing a column "The Rest is History" for the Fishtown Star between 2007-2011 (284 articles!) Kenneth has authored six books with History Press of Charleston, S.C.:
Remembering Kensington and Fishtown
History of Penn Treaty Park
History of the Kensington Soup Society
Hidden History of Kensington and Fishtown
Palmer Cemetery and the Historical Burial Grounds of Kensington and Fishtown
The Philadelphia Nativist Riots: Irish Kensington Erupts