I bet that almost every person engaged in family history and genealogy research has lost track of someone – at some point compared census records and wondered, “Now, where did he (or she) go?” And of course there are always those pesky unidentified mystery photographs that make their way into family collections.
Often when compiling a family history relatives will drift in and out of the picture, sometimes disappearing forever. This can be especially true if you are Irish, attempting to make sense of a family history full of the gaps left by emigration, or American with Irish roots, sorting through migration throughout the entire United States (it is a big country!)
It may be frustrating for genealogists tracing relatives who appear to be missing with no paper trail to follow, but imagine what it was like for the mother who had gone ten years without hearing from her emigrant son, or the brother who was separated from his siblings in the confusion of arriving in America?
I was thinking about some of the mysteries in my own research when I remembered a database put together by the Irish Studies program at Boston College several years ago – Missing Friends: Ads for missing Irish immigrants from the Boston Pilot.
The database consists of text entries for 38.701 ads placed by individuals looking for lost friends and relatives from the “Missing Friends” column which appeared in the Boston Pilot from October 1831 through October 1921. The amount of information contained in the entries varies, but can include specifics about birthplace, dates of immigration, locations, relatives, and occupations.
To test the database, I searched for my great-great-grandfather Francis McMahon’s sister who, according to family folklore, was lost once the family arrived in America. No records matched for that search, but I quickly transitioned into general browse mode of the database. It is possible through an Advanced Search to search by words you enter in any of the fields contained in the entry. This way, if you are unable to locate a specific name, you might luck out and find someone from the same townland or parish as your relative, with whom there may be a connection. Search by relationship to find all the grandmothers who placed ads for missing grandchildren, or ads for missing farmers, railroad workers, or miners.
This database is definitely worth a look. Let me know if you find anything interesting! Leave a comment or send me an email – email@example.com. I came across something interesting when I was browsing the database…well, interesting to me at least!
I did an Advanced with Fisherville, NH in the “Location after arrival” field. Fisherville, NH was where some of my relatives first settled after arriving in the US. Two ads resulted from the search, both for Thomas Keenan. One ad was placed February 11, 1865 by his brother Peter, and the other March 11, 1865 by his mother Ann. Thomas was my great-great-grandfather Patrick Foley’s brother-in-law (sort of convoluted relationship, I know!) At any rate Thomas had left Fisherville for Australia in 1857 and the family lost touch with him at some point. The ad placed by his mother says, “Afflicted mother Ann Keenan wants information.” This makes me wonder…was it simply that they had not heard from Thomas that prompted two ads in two months, or was there something else going on in the family in Fisherville that made them want to find him?
This great database is just another way we can get closer to the stories of the Irish in America…
February 8, 2012 at 12:37 am
Aine, I’ve only now stumbled upon your site and have made it a favorite. I have worked on my “mixed” heritage for many years and my “Smullen’s” have been pretty difficult to locate. Luckily I found a posting in the Boston paper’s for a missing Edward Smallen from Co Kildare to Orange Co New York. His wife Ellen had posted it. He must have gone of to look for work and for some reason lost account of one another. 5 years later they were sort of back together. He was living and working as a hostler for a tavern in the neighboring town. She and the children were accounted for alone in the next towns census. Years later as they aged, it appears they split up again as each lived with a different daughter.
The Boston paper posting aslo gave me a direction to look in Ireland and sure enough I was able
to find the birth and baptisms of thier first three children in Monasterevin Parish, Co Kildare. How great it feels to finally make a connection.