A sometimes untapped source of information on ancestors who emigrated to the United States, is the search facility, provided by Boston College on Information Wanted – The Boston Pilot. There was a tidal wave of Irish immigration to North America in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Some came to escape political upheaval, famine, and poverty, while others simply hoped to start a better life in the new world. During this time, formal communication was by the written word, but an international postal system was only just emerging, making it difficult for those who had immigrated to keep in touch with those they had left behind. The result was that many of those in Ireland had no idea where their relatives and friends might be. Many new Irish Americans simply became “lost” to those who cared for them.
From October 1831 through October 1921, the Boston Pilot newspaper printed a “Missing Friends” column with advertisements from people looking for “lost” friends and relatives who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States. This extraordinary collection of 41,249 records is available here as a searchable online database, which contains a text record for each ad that appeared in the Pilot.
The advertisements contain the ordinary but revealing details about the missing person’s life: the county and parish of their birth, when they left Ireland, the believed port of arrival in North America, their occupation, and a range of other personal information. Some records may have as many as 50 different data fields, while others may offer only a few details. The people who placed ads were often anxious family members in Ireland, or the wives, siblings, or parents of men who followed construction jobs on railroads or canals
In October 1831 an advertisement appeared in the Boston Pilot newspaper seeking a Patrick McDermott, whose wife and family, newly arrived from Ireland, would be returned by the Emigrant Commissioner if he was not located. This was the first ad in what became known as the “Missing Friends” column, which ran for ninety years (1831-1921). Almost immediately the ads became popular, were widely used, and increased the paper’s circulation nationally and abroad, including Ireland and Australia.
I am currently researching the arrival and whereabouts of three members of the Nelligan family of Aunascaul in the 1850s and I came across this record in my search – not the family I am looking for though.
17.5.1851 Patrick Neligan, Ballinacourty, Boston Pilot, ‘within one mile of Auniscaul, wants to find his father John Neligan, who landed in Boston about 2 years since, with his daughter Johanna, and is now supposed to be in Lynchburg, VA.