Irish Immigrant Missing Friends Notices for Staten Island

Before text messages and Twitter, before telephones and televisions, there was only one way to broadcast a message publicly: through a newspaper.

During the great wave of Irish immigrants to America, people often lost track of each other: because word of their whereabouts hadn’t reached home to Ireland; or because family members journeyed separately, hoping to meet upon arrival; or because people who made the journey together got separated, often when one was detained in quarantine at Staten Island.

In October 1831, an advertisement appeared seeking the whereabouts of Patrick McDermott, whose wife and family had just arrived from Ireland and could not locate him. This became the start of a regular “Missing Friends” column in The Boston Pilot, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston. The column continued to run for ninety years (1831-1921).

Free Download

The advertisement records records are available online in a number of places. Each database differs in the way they present the data; and I’m not sure if any are complete.

Selected Abstracts of Boston Pilot Ads for Staten Island free [PDF]

I’ve searched the records and extracted those that mention Staten Island specifically. The details I provide for each record are merely a subset of what is available; just enough to get you started, so you will definitely want to check the following resources.


  • Boston College Information Wanted Database – free to search and view 40,892 record abstracts.
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society Irish Immigrant Advertisements The fully transcribed text of the advertisement is displayed. This database appears to have a smaller number of records.  Access is free, but you have to create a guest account to view the record detail.
  • Ancestry has announced it will index and add this collection soon. Presumably, this would include images –whether of the originals or the just the transcriptions in book below is not clear – and this will be for paid subscribers.
  • The authoritative reference is The Search for Missing Friends, an eight-volume set published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It includes a detailed analysis of the data, and scholarly information about  the advertisements.

The Republic of Staten Ireland

Irish Fair June 8-9, 2013 to benefit St.Columcille Irish Cultural Center

Irish Fair June 8-9, 2013 to benefit St.Columcille Irish Cultural Center

Special dispensation – nay, a societal obligation — to consume large quantities of green beer every March 17 comes to everyone with Irish heritage.

Thanks to my third great-grandfather Michael Wheeler (1808 – 1899), who immigrated to Staten Island and peddled dry goods, I gleefully escape the more sober obligations of my mostly Dutch family tree. One does what one can to preserve history.

I like to believe that Michael tipped a pint or two with this chum, who would have been his contemporary, and maybe a friend:


New York Tribune, Apr 16, 1900

“Richard Monahan, of Oak Street, Rosebank, Staten Island, who celebrated his one hundredth birthday anniversary on St. Patrick’s Day, died on Saturday night at his home.  Monahan was born in County Cork, Ireland, and came
to America when a boy. He was married in New York on St. Patrick’s Day, seventy-five years ago, and shortly after moved to Staten Island with his bride. He occupied the house where he died during all those years…In his earlier days, Mr. Monahan joined the army, and was with General Jackson in the Indian War in Florida. He was an inveterate smoker, and insisted upon having a new clay pipe every day. He was an ardent Democrat. He often expressed a desire to live until Ireland should be free. Monahan had two daughters, eleven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Imagine: a childhood transatlantic crossing to a foreign land was not enough excitement; so he went off to fight the Indians.

I shall have to rethink my slothful ways, and my loathing of I-95, I suppose.

The first Irishman to make his mark on Staten Island was probably Thomas Dongan. He was made the first governor of the province of New York under the English (about whom I shall complain loudly, but that’s another post). Dongan was born in 1634 in Castletown Kildrought, County Kildare, Ireland. He received a land patent on Staten Island, where his estate became known as Manor of Cassiltowne – which became the Town of Castleton.

The greatest number of Irish immigrants came to the Island during the Great Famine of 1845 – 1852. There was no Ellis Island, no Castle Garden then. Ships arriving at the port of New York were inspected by medical officers from the Marine Hospital on Staten Island, and passengers who were unwell were detained in quarantine on Staten Island.  Many of them died there and were buried in unmarked graves.

Having lost so many of its own during The Great Hunger,  the government of Ireland is now reaching out to those of Irish descent and recognizing the Irish diaspora (I had to look up that word). This year, Ireland is making a special family history effort with  The Gathering – Ireland 2013.

The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage. – Constitution of Ireland, Article 2

So once you solve your ancestral mysteries, be sure to apply to the Ireland Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive your official, totally sanctioned and completely legitimate Certificate of Irish Heritage. They are 20% off until March 24.

Excuse me please. Off to buy green food coloring.