Social media, email and mobile phones make it easy to stay connected with relatives and friends. But in the era of mass migration from Ireland, those who left to make a new home in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia might seldom be heard from again.
In the 1830s The Boston Pilot Newspaper began publishing advertisements from people who were looking for “lost” friends and relatives among those Irish migrants last heard of in the United States. The “Missing Friends” column ran from 1831 until 1921, printing details of appeals for information from anxious relatives.
Often the appeal was for purely personal reasons, the family member had lost touch and wanted to know if their brother was alive and well.
A fairly typical advertisement is this one from a sister who has lost contact with her brother John Heenan.
Several appeals were posted by the brother of Michael Heenan, originally from King’s County. Thomas Heenan placed this advertisement in the Boston Pilot on February 2 1985 and again in December that year, this time with a physical description. Neither could have been successful because he made a further appeal thirteen years later.
Occasionally there was a more pressing need for the missing person to be located.
In November 1872, for example, an appeal was made for Nicholas and Mary Heenan, originally from county Galway, who would “hear something to their advantage” if they made themselves known. One possibility is that they were to inherit something from their father Patrick’s estate.
The advertisements often contain very ordinary but revealing details about the person’s life, the place of their birth, where they were believed to have arrived in North America. Some people may have disappeared because they were construction workers who moved around the country as new canal and railway projects got underway. Others may have been part of the Gold Rush or the move to settle more of the interior of the United States and died in the process.
All of these appeals contain useful information that could help me track down some of the people who feature on immigration records at Ellis Island.