The "Missing Friends" column ran in The Boston Pilot, the Roman Catholic newspaper in the city, from 1831 to 1921. Irish immigrants used the ads to locate loved ones after they became separated in their journeys to America. Some were looking for a spouse who skipped town, while others sought to unite families. All of the 31,000 ads shed light on the immigrant experience.
Boston College is posting an online database of the ads that anyone can search. According to BC's announcement, the database is an electronic version of BC professor Ruth-Ann M. Harris' eight-volume set called "The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot." Harris researched and edited the set for the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
The first ad appeared in October 1831. It sought Patrick McDermott, whose newly emigrated wife and family were going to be sent back to Ireland if he didn't show up. Most of the ads stopped after 1915, when the Archdiocese of Boston bought the Pilot. Also by then, postal service had greatly improved, allowing better communication among families and friends.
The Web site is called Information Wanted, named after the column under which the ads ran. It can be accessed at http://www.bc.edu/centers/irish/studies/