Catharine Mara, a native of Dungarvin, county Waterford, Ireland, married tailor Patrick Meeham and left for a new life in Canada. Her family last heard from her in 1836, when she was in Montreal. In 1842, Mary Whalan posted a Boston newspaper ad looking for her sister.
The United States and Canada are vast countries, and those emigrating from Ireland in the early 1800s could walk off the ship and disappear into the new society.
For some, starting a new life across the pond meant breaking ties with family and friends as they scattered across the vast new lands in search of fortune or adventure.
Some died along the way, while some changed names, married and started new families. For others, perhaps just getting by was a struggle, and staying in touch with family was too much effort. Others were illiterate and unable to write letters to those they left behind.
For these kinds of ancestors, searching formal migration and naturalization records likely won’t net any results. But we might find them by using the same tool their families used from 1831 to 1920: the Boston Pilot newspaper. This is where friends and family posted advertisements begging for information about or contact with the missing.
During that time period, individuals placed more than 45,000 advertisements in hopes their loved ones, or someone who knew them, would read the paper. Ruth Ann Harris, Donald Jacobs and Emer O’Keefe extracted those newspapers and published them in “Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in The Boston Pilot 1831-1920” (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1989).
Their work is among many of the new digitized entries at Ancestry.com. Readers can access the records with a paid subscription to Ancestry or free at local libraries.
Advertisements with the missing persons’ homes in Ireland, their ages, when they traveled and where they were last seen fill the pages of the newspaper. The information connects parents to children, identifies wives’ maiden names, and identifies men’s trades.
Here’s a taste of what’s in these records:
Connor, age 25 to 30 years, of the county Kerry, west of Dingal, Ireland, left wife Bridget in the fall of 1841. He wrote her for a while, but then his letters stopped. When she last heard from him, he was working on the Chesapeake and Ohio canal.
Men weren’t the only ones who disappeared. In January 1843, John McKennsa wrote a query for his wife, Catherine, daughter of Robert McGowan, formerly of Providence, R.I. He had not heard from her in three years and asked for news of whether she was dead or alive.
Bartholomew Keefe of County Cork was in Newport, R.I., when family last heard from him. His wife’s maiden name was Hennessy, and she was a native of Middletown, County Cork. They had a child named Donnell. Readers could send any information to Jeremiah Hennessy, 249 Ann St., Boston.
In December 1842, Margaret Gilfoil, whose maiden name was Muldoone, advertised that she wanted to hear from her husband, William. He had left Halifax, Canada, on July 18, 1833, for Alabama. When she last heard from him, he was in Charleston, S.C. He could send a letter care of John Powell, No. 1, Humphrey Place, Boston.
All of these records are indexed and fully searchable. Anyone with Irish heritage should check these files for true buried genealogical treasures. They may hold answers that will break down brick walls or they may provide clues for further research.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Baylife, The Tampa Tribune, 202 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She regrets that she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching specific individuals.