Using the Records of the Emigrant Savings Bank


Ann (Dillon) (Jennings) Prendergast was born in County Galway, Ireland, and resided with her family in Mount Mary in Galway. Sometime before 1852, Ann's parents, Robert Dillon and Ann Kelly, passed away, leaving four children. Ann's brother John remained in Ireland as did her sister Elizabeth, while her sister Jane lived in New York. It is very possible that Jane, following the Irish pattern of chain migration, helped her sister Ann by sending funds to pay her passage to America. Chain migration refers to the Irish custom of sending funds back to Ireland to pay the passage for the next to come over.

Following the example of previous Irish immigrants, Ann left Ireland for Liverpool, England, where she booked passage on the ship Rosette to New York. She arrived in New York harbor in May 1848, at the height of exodus from Ireland during the Potato Famine.

Ann Dillon first married Edward Jennings, with whom she had two children, Peter H. Jennings and Mary Ann Jennings. By 1852 Ann married Peter Prendergast, but had no children from her second marriage. Ann and Peter Prendergast ran a boarding house at 139 Washington Street, Manhattan. Thinking of her daughter's future, Ann arrived at the Emigrant Savings Bank on December 14, 1852, to open a savings account in trust for Mary Ann Jennings, then six years old. On May 4, 1865, Ann (Dillon) (Jennings) Prendergast died. Her bank account was released on May 3, 1866 to her husband P. Prendergast, who had Letters of Administration for her estate.

What would you give to have Ann Prendergast as your ancestor? If you are an Irish researcher, you might give a great deal, for few Irish genealogists whose families came ashore at the Port of New York during the mid-19th century can describe their ancestors with such accurate detail. It is for this reason that the Emigrant Savings Bank records are regarded as a goldmine. All of the above information on Ann and her family was taken from those records.   

An outgrowth of the Irish Emigrant Society, a benevolent institution giving aid to immigrants, the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank opened its doors in the spring of 1850. It was located at 51 Chambers Street, Manhattan, just north of City Hall. A savings bank for the working classes, its depositors were predominantly Irish.

To insure protection for its patrons, the bank required identifying information of those opening accounts. What is your address? Where were you born? When did you arrive? On which ship did you sail? Who are your parents? Have you siblings? Where do they live? These are the more frequently asked questions that were copied in the bank's “Test Books.”

Fifty-nine volumes from the archives of the Emigrant Savings Bank are in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division of the New York Public Libraryi. They include the volumes described in this article, as well as many financial records that are less likely to interest genealogists. In 1997 the NYG&B Library acquired microfilm copies of those Emigrant Savings Bank records most useful to genealogists. The 14 reels are cataloged as *R-USLHG *ZI-815. Rolls 1-20 Microfilm, and are divided into three groups: Indexes; Test Books; and Transfer, Signature and Test Books.   

The Indexes are arranged in rough alphabetical order; entries are chronological by the first letter of the surname, and show the corresponding account number (e.g., Ann Prendergast was account #3271). There are three index books:

Reel 1

Index Book 1


Reel 2

Index Book 2


Reel 3

Index Book 3



Once you know the account number, you can use the Test Books and then the Transfer, Signature and Test Books. If a patron lost his passbook, another would be issued, providing he could supply the clerk with the information in the Test Book. The new passbook would be recorded in the Transfer, Signature and Test Books, often with updated personal information. Because not everyone needed a new passbook, not every account in the Test Books series will also be found in the Transfer, Signature and Test Books, but researchers should always look up an account number in both series. The two series are on film as follows (unfortunately, the books indexed in Index Book 3 are missing and presumed lost):   

  Test Books


Account Nos.

Date Range


1 to 12,482

30 Sept. 1850–4 Sept. 1856


12,483 to 25,000

4 Sept. 1856–9 Aug. 1860


25,000 to 32,521

10 Aug. 1860–22 Nov. 1862


32,522 to 40,129

24 Nov. 1862–16 Apr. 1864


40,130 to 47,702

16 Apr. 1864–7 July 1865


47,703 to 58,999

7 July 1865–20 May 1867


59,000 to 66,756

20 May 1867–24 Aug. 1868


[no later Test Books survive]   

 Transfer, Signature and Test Books

Reel Vol.#

Vol. #

Account Nos.

Date Range



28 to 69,994

3 Oct. 1850–8 Mar. 1869



70,003 to 103,999

9 Mar. 1869–31 July 1874



104,403 to 122,999

31 July 1874–12 Sept. 1877



155,001 to 170,000

6 July 1881–5 Jan. 1883

[vols. 4-5 are missing]

Though the surviving records span only 18 years for the Test Books, and nine additional years for the Transfer, Signature and Test Books, they describe over 66,000 account holders. Perhaps you may be lucky and find that your ancestor was as determined as Ann Prendergast was to provide for her daughter, and that they opened a savings account as well.

To learn more about the collection and the Emigrant Savings Bank, see Marion Casey, “Friends in Need, Irish Emigrant Society,” Seaport 30 (Spring 1996):31-33; Harry Keaney, “Immigrant Treasure Trove Found,” Irish Echo vol. 68, no. 38 (20-26 Sept. 1995):1, 18, 38; and A Century of Growth: One of America's Great Savings Institutions 1850-1950: Published in Observance of the First Hundred Years of the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank (New York: The Bank, 1950). See also Richard Salvato, A User's Guide to the Emigrant Savings Bank Records (New York Public Library, 1997); and Richard J. Purcell, “The Irish Emigrant Society of New York,” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 27, No. 108 (Dec., 1938): 583-599, available at

 iAlso available for a fee through New York Emigrant Savings Bank, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Emigrant Savings Bank. Emigrant Savings Bank Records. Call number *R-USLHG *ZI-815. Rolls 1-20. New York Public Library, New York, New York.


by Suzanne McVetty, CG

Originally published in The NYG&B Newsletter, Winter 1998

Vetted for accuracy July 2011

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