The Irish in America

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Missing Friends, Missing Links

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.

No clue who these two guys are...

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 –  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…


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James J. Fahey: Best-selling author with roots in Ardrahan, Galway

Earlier today I received an email from Rory O’Shaughnessy, a team leader for Ardrahan Parish in Galway, part of the Ireland Reaching Out project.

He asked for my help in spreading the word as they search for any descendants or relatives of James J. Fahey.  James Fahey wrote “Pacific War Diary: 1942-1945” in 1963.  Click here to read his obituary printed in the New York Times and to learn what he did with his earnings from the sales of his book.  It is a great story.

James Fahey’s people came from Ardrahan.  He was born in New York City in 1918.  His parents died three years after his birth, and he was sent to live with relatives in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Later he lived in Marco Island, Florida with his wife Adele and died in 1991.  His obituary stated that he had no biological children, but had stepchildren.  He was also survived by two brothers – John and Joseph.

Any relatives of James J. Fahey out there?  Let me know…leave a comment on this post, or send me an email:

Ireland Reaching Out is an exciting project happening in the parishes of Southeast Galway.  Help them as they try to identify and connect with the descendants of those who left Ireland, members of the vast Irish Diaspora.

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What’s the most Irish town in America?

The 2010 US Census returns are in and the “most Irish town” in the country is Scituate, Massachusetts.  Scituate is located about 30 miles from Boston in an area known as the “Irish Riviera” – read the story from the Irish Central here.

In the article Richard Finnegan of Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts explains the Irish migration from inner-city Boston to the South Shore suburbs as the natural path in light of improved economic and social positions  attained by the Irish during the twentieth century.  It is interesting that the Irish seemed to replicate their urban neighborhoods in the new suburban landscape.  Professor Finnegan says that, “Family goes where their family and friends are.”  This was true of the nineteenth century Irish immigrants and it remains true for Irish Americans and new twenty-first century immigrants as well.

Professor Finnegan’s statement helps to make family history research a bit more manageable.  Searching US Census records on for a family member who emigrated to America?  When you find a match, take a minute to look at the names of the neighbors…you might recognize names from your home town in Ireland. The same is true when searching passenger lists – especially those from the twentieth century which sometimes indicate a family or friend’s name and address in the US – the emigrant’s destination.

And when you reach a dead-end with your research, just remember what Professor Finnegan said…”Families go where their family and friends are.”  This simple and spot-on description of the Irish migratory experience may lead to new discoveries.

For more on Scituate, Massachusetts visit the town’s website.

If you would like to learn more about the Irish in Boston, click here.