Introduction: In this article – in honor of March being Irish-American Heritage Month – Gena Philibert-Ortega describes the “Missing Friends” column in the “Irish World” newspaper that often provides two valuable and hard-to-find clues: a wife’s maiden name, and where in Ireland your Irish American ancestors came from. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Today, if you want to connect with a family member or a friend you can email, instant message, or call them. Some devices and mobile apps include a feature that shows, based on GPS coordinates, where your friends are so that you know their exact location. But for our ancestors, when a person traveled, moved, or emigrated, the wait to hear word from them could take months or even years. If something tragic happened, no word may ever have reached the family.
I’ve written before about the genealogical value of newspaper missing persons advertisements. Wives placed ads for missing husbands. After the Civil War, the formerly enslaved placed Information Wanted ads hoping to find family and friends they had been separated from. Obviously, before modern technologies, immigrants could easily lose touch with family and friends in their homeland and their adopted country.
Ethnic newspapers are a vital source for researching our ancestors. They provide some of the personal genealogically relevant information we look for, as well as a general look at our ancestors’ world, their ancestral home and their new home. One example of the value of ethnic newspapers can be found in the personal advertisements families placed looking for family and friends.
Since March is Irish-American Heritage Month, perhaps you’ve been researching your Irish American ancestors these past few weeks. GenealogyBank has a collection of Irish American newspapers that could be very helpful to your research. For example, one of them, the Irish World, includes a “Missing Friends” column that is a must-read for those researching Irish genealogy.
The Irish World is just one example of an ethnic newspaper that offered a missing friends type of column. Readers could pay for an advertisement in hopes of finding a missing family member or friend. Ethnic newspapers often had a large circulation that transcended a single city or even a state, thus making it more possible to find a missing loved one.
These advertisements weren’t free. They were a paid advertisement – but in a world without the modern-day benefits of social media, it was the best someone could do to get the word out. In 1872 a reader could advertise for their missing friend for 3 weeks for $1. The newspaper boasted: “The Irish World circulates in every state, town and hamlet in the United States. Almost all of the persons advertised are found.” Later the newspaper’s circulation grew to include countries outside of the United States, including Ireland, England, Canada and Australia.
Over time, the fee covered a single week and then was reduced to 50 cents. “In this Department inquiries concerning Missing Friends will be inserted one time for Fifty Cents. Give full particulars, including age, height, or occupation.” That 50-cent payment in 1902 equals more than $16 today. An expensive proposition when you consider that, according to census statistics, in 1905 the average wage was $10 a week.*
For genealogists who find their ancestors listed in such advertising, the information can be a valuable clue. It lists names, familial relationships, and places, and provides a description of their physical characteristics and their lives.
This 30 November 1872 printing of “Missing Friends” divides the advertisements by the missing person’s place of origin. Under the header “[County] Clare” is a query from a son about his mother and siblings. It lists her married name “Mrs. John Angley,” her maiden name “Mary Carmody” (a valuable clue for genealogists), and the names of her children. It also says where in Ireland they were from (Kilmore, County Clare), information that is often very hard to find. At the time of the query they had, two years previously, worked in a slate quarry in Buland, Vermont. The son, also named John Angley, has a Pennsylvania address that he could be reached at.
Consider this next ad, for information wanted for William or Joseph Walsh. Their father’s name and mother’s maiden name are listed, and where in Ireland they were from. A family member in Australia has placed the advertisement.
Reading the advertisements, one gets a sense of the fear and hope that the ad placer has. This advertisement speaks volumes in its offer of a $100 reward (over $3,000 today) for information about a soldier.
The Irish World
To search the Irish World newspaper, you can search from the Irish World search engine on GenealogyBank. Available issues to search span 1872-1905. If you want to just read the “Missing Friends” ads, type that phrase in the Keywords search box.
* “Census of Manufacturers: 1905,” HathiTrust (https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nnc1.cu56779232?urlappend=%3Bseq=15%3Bownerid=27021597768737030-19: accessed 21 February 2022).