Irish Famine Immigrants' Search for Missing Friends
From 1831 through 1916, the national Boston Pilot newspaper printed some 45,000 "Missing Friends" advertisements placed by friends and relatives in attempts to locate loved ones lost during emigration.
From 1831 through 1916, the national Boston Pilot newspaper printed some 45,000 "Missing Friends" advertisements placed by friends and relatives in attempts to locate loved ones lost during emigration. These ads, consolidated into edited volumes, provide a valuable record of a poor emigrant population trying to reach one another.
“Since it was a very large movement of people, many of whom left little behind, it’s hard to know the personal stuff,” said Emer O'Keeffe, an editor of several of the volumes. “This is what the ads provide; they speak directly to us, and this intimacy makes them appealing. John Fallon ‘had light hair, blue eyes; was about four feet, four inches in height; wore a blue spencer, a new scoop shovel cap, a fancy pants and had a freckled face.’ You can really see this boy! You can often glimpse a personality. Thomas Sullivan was described by his wife as ‘of medium height, brown hair, fair complexion, and free in conversation.’ The vulnerability of individuals left stranded is also clear. James Rourke’s wife and children were ‘daily mourning his absence.’ Catherine Kelly sought her husband, signing herself ‘the mother of his four living children.’ The voices of these emigrants resonate still.”
In their own words, through the Boston Pilot listings, emigrants express their hope, fear and loss. “The ads run the gamut of immigrant experience and the tone reflects this,” Emer O’Keeffe said, “From personal emotions – vulnerability and loss, hope and pride when things are going well – to the larger social movements. The tone of the 1847 listings, for example, is very different from that of the 1890s when the immigrants are more prosperous and social networks much more evolved. … [Famine emigrants] certainly didn’t give up the hope of locating [their loved ones]. Many immigrants placed ads again and again for family they might not have seen or heard from in decades. And the ads weren’t cheap: thousands paid their daily wage and more ($1) for an ad that would run three times.”
Emer O’Keeffe embarked on this project with a personal resonance. “I came to the U.S. in 1983 to attend Northeastern University’s graduate history program,” she told Irish America. “The 1980s was a very grim time economically in Ireland, with huge numbers of people emigrating to the U.S., England, and Australia. Most of my undergraduate class ended up emigrating. But I was the only member of my large family to leave home, and back then it wasn’t as easy to stay in touch. We didn’t have cell phones or e-mail, and phone calls were more expensive. We wrote a lot of letters! It was easy to empathize with the homesickness many of the immigrants experienced; as well as the need to stay connected with family and to create an Irish community in America.”
Boston Pilot Listings from 1847
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- The New York Times questions Ireland’s highly-p
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- Offensive NFL sign outside restaurant just...
- No Irish prosecution for man named as world’s...
- Bah! Humbug! The ten worst things about Christm
- Spanish judge slams Ryanair’s sexist air...
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra
- Nelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning.