For 90 years, a Catholic newspaper in Boston ran a "missing friends" column with advertisements that helped newly arrived Irish immigrants find lost friends and relatives. On this St. Patrick's Day, Boston College is unveiling a searchable online database of more than 30,000 records of those ads.
Michele Norris discusses the database -- which includes columns from The Boston Pilot that ran from 1831 to 1921 -- with Boston College Irish studies professor Ruth-Ann Harris.
An "Information Wanted" column from The Boston Pilot in 1858.
Harris' research reveals that 65 percent of the ads were of siblings looking for each other, and that men were reported missing more often than women. Many ads were placed by wives searching for their husbands who were off building the nation's canals. The database has helped researchers learn more about migration patterns of immigrants, Harris says.
The Pilot claimed a 75 percent success rate of finding missing persons through the ads, but Harris says she's been unable to prove that figure.
"I've been amazed at what people have told me about finding relatives... So many Irish people don't know where [their families] came from in Ireland. So you can do a search and see where there are frequencies of that name and then you can go to other sources from there."