With mobile technology being pervasive today, it may be difficult for us to imagine a time where we cannot almost instantly connect with a family member or friend, be they in the next room, town, or on another continent. Such communication posed a more difficult challenge in the past, when historical events such as the Great Famine forced our people to emigrate en masse and seek a new life. This coupled with an immature international postal system, meant that family and friends lost contact, often for years at a time.
The Boston Pilot, founded in 1829, is a Catholic newspaper and since 1908 the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston. It was an important newspaper from the perspective of Irish emigrants in the 1800s, becoming the voice of Boston’s Irish community by 1850.
From 1831, and for the next 90 years, the ‘missing friends‘ column of this newspaper was a popular mechanism of attempting to find information on missing family and friends in the United States. In this time, approximately 45,000 advertisements were published seeking information on missing people.
Through researching these ads, there is valuable insight to be gained with regards to Ballymacoda, which was no exception to the rest of Ireland in terms of emigration. There are literally 1000s of records of migrants to the United States in particular, and it is easy to see how families and friends lost contact.
The first ad in the Boston Pilot referencing Ballymacoda and seeking information on a missing person was published on August 27th 1853 by John Ray, seeking information about his brother William.
The next ad referencing Ballymacoda is five years later, when Mary Foley, of Thompsonville, Connecticut seeks information on her brother Patrick Leahy and a man named John McGrath, presumably his travelling companion.
Ten years pass before we find another reference to Ballymacoda, when Patrick Power seeks information on his sister Honoria from Glenawilling, last heard from seven years previously and living in Boston with her uncles.
In the 1870s and 1880s, there was a large increase in the number of ads seeking information on people from Ballymacoda. An ad seeking information on Patrick Kelly & family was published in three consecutive issues of the Pilot on March 9th, 16th and 23rd in 1872.
The same cadence of ads over three issues was also seen seeking information on James Gleeson of Ballydaniel in November 1874.
Information was also sought about John Ahern from Ballymacoda in 1874, who was last heard from ten years previously, living in Virginia at that time.
In 1878, Mary Cronin was seeking information on her brother Daniel. Often times these ads were used to attempt to connect new emigrants with family members who had emigrated in years past.
In November 1880, Patrick Lawton, the nephew of William and David Fehilly from Ballymacoda, who emigrated ‘some 20 or 24 years ago‘ seeks information on them.
The longest ad found in my research concerns David Hyde from Lisquinlan, and was published in the Christmas Day 1880 edition of the newspaper by his brother Nicholas, and again in a January 1881 edition.
In June 1881, an ad seeking information on Elizabeth and Margaret Cullen who had emigrated from Ballymacoda 19 years previously is published.
The final two ads published in the Boston Pilot seeking information on emigrants from Ballymacoda were published in 1885 and 1886. In 1885, the sister of John O’Neill (who interestingly is noted as a grandnephew of Fr. Peter O’Neill) looks for information on her brother who was last heard from 32 years previously. This ad was published in two issues of the Pilot in July and August 1885.
The final ad relating to Ballymacoda was published in September 1886 with information being sought on John Maguire and his wife who had emigrated to Boston 39 years previously (this is the longest timespan observed in any ad relating to Ballymacoda).
One has to wonder if any of the ads were successful, and how often family and friends were reunited as an outcome. It is certain that the individuals being sought were important to the submitter of the ad – the cost of $3 dollars to publish such an ad in the Pilot was likely a sizable chunk of their regular income.
As well as providing a fascinating insight into the past, these ads in the Boston Pilot have been a rich source of genealogical information over the years based on the information they contain, and it is easy to see why, using these ads relating to Ballymacoda as an example. Key information is present, such as dates of emigration, last known locations, ships travelled on etc. – all of which can be cross-checked and validated with other available records to help build out a picture of an emigrants life after leaving Ireland.
The Ballymacoda Emigrants Database
I am also using this post to announce a new sub-project of the Ballymacoda History Project – the Ballymacoda Emigrants Database.
This is a database which I have been building from scratch, which combines multiple sources of data pertaining to emigrants from Ballymacoda to the United States, Canada, Australia and further afield. When the database goes live later in 2022, it will be fully browsable, searchable and allow anyone to delve into the key information of the 1000s of emigrants from Ballymacoda. It will also be a useful reference for anyone researching family genealogy or family roots in Ballymacoda.
References & Further Information
Boston College Libraries, Boston College Newspapers Archive
The Irish Classifieds, A lost-and-found for the American Migration, Boston College Magazine, Spring 2005 Edition