Monday, September 29, 2014

Information Wanted Ads I - Boston

One of the most well known Irish genealogical sources in the U.S. is the Boston Pilot series of information wanted ads. Despite its widely known status, it is always worth clearly explaining a record set in detail and highlighting the fact that there were other newspapers that also carried such ads.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Irish people in the U.S. and Ireland who were looking for information about immigrant family members placed information wanted adverts in newspapers. These adverts requested information about the immigrant who had not been heard from for a period of time, usually a few years. "During this time, formal communication was by the written word, but an international postal system was just emerging, making it difficult for those who had immigrated to keep in touch with those they had left behind. The result was that many of those in Ireland had no idea where their relatives and friends might be. Many new Irish Americans simply became “lost” to those who cared for them."[1]

The first ad appeared in the Boston Pilot in October 1831. The wife of Patrick McDermott placed the ad looking for him as she and their children would be returned to Ireland if he was not located. The ad outlined that he was from County Kildare and provided more information such as where he was born and details about his first year in the U.S. (see image below).

The first Information Wanted ad in the Boston Pilot, October 1831

From 1831 to 1920, over 45,000 ads were placed in the paper and they provided an abundance of information about those who were sought after. Standard information included name, place of origin in Ireland (often including civil parish and townland), name and details of person seeking information, and the relationship between them and the missing person. Other information that was regularly included told of the ship the immigrant traveled on, year of arrival, locations in the U.S. after arrival, occupations, and work history. As more Irish immigrants came to the U.S., they inhabited more and more states. As a result the ads sought information about people in states up and down the east coast, the mid-west, and Canada. Therefore, it is easy to see how these ads have become probably the most well known Irish genealogy source in the U.S.

Currently, there are four main places where they can be accessed:
  • The Boston College Information Wanted site has transcriptions of the ads for the years 1831-1878, 1880-1882, 1887, 1889, 1890, 1893, 1901, and 1913. It is free to access and has 41,249 records.
  • has "Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in "The Boston Pilot 1831-1920". The database contains indexed images.
  • Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements [database online]. Boston, MA: 2010.
  • Harris, Ruth-Ann M., Donald M. Jacobs, and B. Emer O’Keeffe, editors. Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in “The Boston Pilot 1831–1920”. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society. 1989. 8 vols. Note: information in the and databases comes from this publication.                                                              
One has to wonder how many of the missing people were reunited with their friends and family members. Some of the ads outlined how a person was not heard from for ten years or more. It would be remarkable to think they ever made contact again. Something to remember as we use these ads for our research.

Check out the next blog post in a few days which will highlighted information wanted ads from another east coast city.

[1] Harris, Ruth-Ann and Kathleen Williams. Information Wanted - History. 2014. accessed 9 September 2014.


  1. Amazing that on top of the struggles of immigration in the 19th came the possibility that after making the harsh Atlantic crossing an Irish immigrant may never have been reunited with loved ones.

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