24 September 2014

Finding Irish roots through Boston Pilot newspaper ads

From October 1831 to October 1921, The Boston Pilot, the city’s Catholic newspaper, helped people locate their relatives and friends through advertisements in its “Missing Friends” or “Information Wanted” column. Widely circulated throughout the United States and Canada, the weekly newspaper featured ads from recent immigrants seeking family and friends they had lost touch with or who had relocated. The “missing” may have been in the country a few months or many years. With its large readership, the paper served Catholics of different nationalities, with a high percentage of Irish readers. Not all ads had a Boston connection.

These ads not only serve as a replacement for missing ship manifests, they sometimes offer great detail about your ancestors. You may learn the missing person’s birth place or hometown, age, marital status, maiden name, alias, name of ship, departure port, arrival port, travel dates, intended destination, last known residence, usual occupation, employer, physical description, and more. The person seeking information may include relationship and residence as well as a way to contact him/her.

In 1989, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) published its first volume of The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot 1831-1920. The book series concluded with volume 8 in 1999. Several years later, NEHGS offered a CD-ROM version. 

Boston College created the first online database of advertisements for Irish immigrants published in the Boston Pilot. Currently, it does not cover the full run of newspaper issues. Free.

NEHGS’s AmericanAncestors.org web site includes the database under the title: Irish Immigrant Advertisements, 1831-1920 (Search for Missing Friends). Membership required.

Ancestry.com lists the database under the title: Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in The Boston Pilot 1831–1920. Subscription required.

The official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, The Boston Pilot is still published today.

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