There was a tidal wave of Irish immigration to North America in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Some came to escape political upheaval, famine, and poverty, while others simply hoped to start a better life in the new world. 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.

The October 1831 ad seeking Patrick McDermott. (enlarge image)

In October 1831 an advertisement appeared in the Boston Pilot newspaper seeking a Patrick McDermott, whose wife and family, newly arrived from Ireland, would be returned by the Emigrant Commissioner if he was not located. This was the first ad in what became known as the “Missing Friends” column, which ran for ninety years (1831-1921). Almost immediately the ads became popular, were widely used, and increased the paper's circulation nationally and abroad, including Ireland and Australia.

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