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).
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.
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.