Migration, Newspapers

“Missing Friends” advertisements

Are you looking for someone who emigrated from Ireland to North America in the nineteenth century? Welcome to the club! The booming business of Irish genealogy indicates that we are not alone.

And their early twenty-first-century descendants are not the first to have searched for some of these emigrants. In the nineteenth century, the friends and relations of Irish emigrants (in both Ireland and the New World) often lost contact with those who had emigrated to North America, and who had then gone “missing.” Sometimes these anxious relatives placed advertisements in the local and regional newspapers — as did the friends and relations of emigrants from many different places, not just from Ireland. But in addition to local and regional papers, the Irish also had The Pilot, which bills itself “America’s Oldest Catholic Newspaper.”

From October 1831 to October 1921, the Boston Pilot ran a “Missing Friends” column, where Irish connections placed advertisements for missing sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, and so on. The column makes for a fascinating, and compelling, read. “She left home three years ago, and sailed for New York, and has not been heard from since,” for example. Or: “Any information concerning his whereabouts will be thankfully received by his wife.” To read the advertisements in the “Missing Friends” column is to encounter a chronicle of equal parts hope, anxiety, and despair.

Here’s one that caught my eye — an advertisement, dated 30 June 1855, placed by a John Benton, formerly of Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary, now of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, who was looking for his brother Thomas:

OF THOMAS BENTON, parish of Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary; when last heard from he was in Edgar co., Ill. Information of him will be received by his brother John, care of David Shiels, Pewaukie, Wis.1

Is this Thomas Benton, son of Thomas Benton and Catherine Dwyer, born in Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary in 1826, died in Arnprior, Renfrew Co., Ontario in 1890?

Possibly.

Certainly, this is the first I’ve heard of Thomas Benton possibly being in Edgar County, Illinois in the early 1850s (railway labour?). Then again, Thomas Benton has already surprised me, with a marriage record in the register for St. John the Evangelist, Gananoque, Leeds Co., Ontario (this discovered after I had searched every available Catholic register for Carleton, Lanark, and Renfrew Counties, and had all but given up). But Gananoque is a lot closer to Pakenham, Lanark Co. (where Thomas Benton can be found in 1861) and to Arnprior, Renfrew Co. (where Thomas Benton lived from the mid-1860s to his death in 1890) than to Edgar Co., Illinois. And do I have any other evidence to suggest that Thomas Benton ever lived in the United States at all? I do not. Still, given the name and the parish (Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary), I’m not ruling out the above Boston Pilot advertisement. Especially since there was also a William Benton in Pewaukee, Wisconsin from the mid-1860s, and Thomas Benton certainly had a younger brother William, born in Cappawhite in 1832.

(The next logical step, of course, is to search for all available records pertaining to John Benton, who died at Pewaukee, Waukesha Co., Wisconsin on 6 March 1882, and who is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Pewaukee, in the hope of finding a record which names his parents. And also to search for all available records pertaining to William Benton of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, in the same hope.)

The Boston Pilot’s  “Missing Friends” advertisements are available online at two sites:

  1. Boston College has an online database, Information Wanted: A Database of Advertisements for Irish Immigrants Published in the Boston Pilot
  2. Ancestry.com has an online database, Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in “The Boston Pilot,” 1831–1920

Those searching for Ireland-to-Canada emigrants should not overlook this collection. While the collection is often described in terms of Irish emigration to the United States, there are many advertisements which reference Canadian locations (and, of course, Canadian ports of landing).

Another Canadian connection: Thomas D’Arcy McGee was an editor of the The Pilot in 1844-45.

  1.  Ancestry.com. Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in “The Boston Pilot,” 1831–1920 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Harris, Ruth-Ann M., Donald M. Jacobs, and B. Emer O’Keeffe, editors. Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in “The Boston Pilot 1831–1920”. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1989.
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