The Irish Advertisements

by Elizabeth Stevens

Immigrant Communities Home

"Missing friend" advertisements circulated in newspapers in the New England area from 1831-1850. Irish Immigrants posted these advertisements in hopes of finding their "missing friends." These friends were last seen in any of the following countries: Ireland, England, Canada or the United States. Through reading these documents about Worcester County, Massachusetts in the Boston Pilot, one learns that these "missing friends" were for the most part missing loved ones. Families did not always travel at the same time to the United States and they often lost contact. This caused many immigrants to enter America with no idea of the location of their family members. Therefore, they posted these advertisements to find them. Through looking at advertisements for "missing friends" in the Boston Pilot, one can gain an understanding of both why these advertisements were published and who were these "missing friends" for whom these immigrants so desperately searched.

Documents of advertisements present many interesting ideas. Except for a few people, most of these "missing friends" were in fact, family members: brothers looking for brothers, sisters looking for brothers or sisters, husbands looking for wives, wives with children looking for missing husbands, etc. Family members who had lost touch with each other, saved up their money to post one of these ads in hopes of finding their missing family member(s).

Another question raised by these advertisements is the relationship between the poster of the ad and the missing person. This relationship in a few that I looked at is unclear. The last names are not the same and for the most part the ad itself is small. For example, one ad states that a Mrs. Alice Gannon is looking for a Mr. Thomas Fanning and his daughter. The two left Leitrim, Ireland and came to New York. Is the identity of this woman looking for them Thomas Fanning's mother (remarried), a past girlfriend, a married sister or merely a friend? The answer is unclear. Is this advertisement short because these ads were sold by the word? This would explain the briefness of many of the ads.

These advertisements give clues as to what was important to these people's identities at this time. The ads make clear that appearance was not important to identity because for the most part, only the " where and when" of the person's last locations and their parish in Ireland were described. For example, only one very lengthy advertisement for the Worcester County area describes the missing friend's appearance. This advertisement not only clearly describes the woman's appearance, but it also offers a reward for her discovery. This was the only reward that I saw offered in the Boston Pilot for Worcester County. The missing woman may not even have wanted to be found. Her husband had been left in Ireland when she came to America. Why is this husband so intent on finding her? What happened in Tipperary, Ireland that made this woman decide to leave her husband, possibly without notice, to travel to America and find a new man? This advertisement demonstrates that not all "missing friends" would have wanted to be found and when found would not have been joyously happy to reunite. This wife had settled with a new life, with a new husband in America and left this husband for a reason unknown.

Throughout these ads, similar information was presented in a short amount of space. Listed information provided points of contact to enable identification by people from differing places. Therefore, the missing person's the parish, the ship taken to America or Canada, the port cities landed in and native town in Ireland are listed most of the time. This gives a broad range of information and gives many different people from different areas a chance to report information about this "missing friend."

These advertisements present many questions to the reader. For example, once arriving in the United States, possibly poor and unemployed, how did these people afford to advertise for their missing loved ones? How much did these advertisements cost? How did these family members lose each other and at what point in life did they lose contact? Did many people read them? What percentage of people found the people they searched for? Why did this method of finding people appear confined within the Irish population for the most part? Did people search for people in a benevolent manner, or were they sometimes looking for them because they were angry with them or sought compensation for something? Examining these documents raises many questions as it answers others. Through studying these advertisements, one can begin to understand life as an Irish Immigrant.