Thursday, June 28, 2001

Missing Friends 1856-1876

In Eye on the Past No. 234 I gave an account of advertisements seeking to trace missing family members which were inserted by Athy folk in the American Newspaper “The Pilot” between 1831 and 1856. As Boston city’s most important Irish-American Newspaper “The Pilot” published the first such advertisements under the heading “Missing Friends” in 1831 and continued with similar advertisements over the following 85 years. The New England Historic Genealogical Society in co-operation with The Irish Studies Programme and The Department of History at Northeastern University started a project during the summer of 1983 to collate, index and publish in book form the many thousands of “Missing Friends” advertisements which appeared in “The Pilot” from 1831 to 1916. The first three published volumes formed the basis of my previous Eye on the Past and I have now obtained copies of four further volumes in the series which bring the work up to 1876.

On 31st January 1857 his sister Matilda sought information on the whereabouts of Charles O’Neil, described as a boot and shoe maker of Athy who was last heard of in New York nine years previously. Two weeks later Michael and John Dunne of Crookstown, who together with their mother and their sister Mary Dunne went to America in May 1847, were the subject of an advertisement inserted by their brother-in-law Felix Byrne. Proof that the emigrants from Ireland did not confine themselves to the Eastern seaboard of America was borne out by an advertisement of 25th October 1857 with reference to Thomas McAvoy [sic], a native of Athy who was last heard of in Aurora, Illinois.

Those of you who have seen copies of the Laurence photographs of Athy at the turn of the 20th century will know of Noud’s Corner, now Winkles which figured prominently in a photograph of Emily Square of approximately 100 years ago. I was interested to read the name Noud in the Missing Friends column of August 1858 where Michael and Andrew Noud of Athy were mentioned as having landed in New York on 3rd June 1848 from where they subsequently went to St. Louis.

For some unexplained reason Crookstown always figured prominently in queries printed in “The Pilot”. Persistent enquirers were Mary Walsh and her brother Edward who after a lengthy period sought information on their brother Denis Walsh of Crookstown who emigrated to America in 1846. Unusually for the Missing Friends column Mary Walsh after failing to get a response to previous advertisements offered a $30 reward for information on her missing brother. A sad tale lay behind the notice inserted by Margaret Nolan who on 2nd February 1861 advised the Pilot readership that her husband James Nolan of Athy, aged 28 years, 6ft. 1in. high, black hair, fair complexion, ears pierced, had deserted her and his child in Providence, Rhode Island over five years previously. Even then one could not trust a man who pierced his ears!

Of interest to me was a June 1864 reference to Thomas Bealin, a native of Athy who died in New Orleans in the summer of 1859 leaving a wife and children who were being sought by a Miss Darcy of New York. Bealin is a name no longer to be found in Athy but sometime ago while perusing the Annals of the local Christian Brothers I came across a reference to John J. Bealin of New York City who in 1926 left a substantial amount of money to the local Christian Brothers. He was a son of Mark Bealin and Margaret Brewster and was born on 28th December 1854 in the cornerhouse at Stanhope Street where Mrs. Lehane lived until recently. Bealin’s father had a flourishing bakery business at No. 2 William Street and he had five children, including William, Mark, Margaret, Mary and the earlier-mentioned John. Mr. Bealin Snr. played an active part in community affairs in Athy and died in 1866. When his widow subsequently remarried the three Bealin sons emigrated to America and John Bealin who was only 14 years of age at that time subsequently became a very successful businessman in New York. It is quite possible that Thomas Bealin who died in New Orleans in 1857 was related to Mark Bealin of Athy who died in 1866.

Keeping up the Crookstown connection was Denis Kennedy of that parish who emigrated to America in 1854 and who was being sought by his brother John Kennedy of Athy. Another advertisement placed by a South Kildare resident was that of Mary Langton of Castle Rheban who on 7th May 1864 describing herself as “their poor mother” desired to hear of her children Patrick, Maria and Thomas Langton who were last heard of in Lockport, New York. Mrs. Langton’s heartfelt plea for news of her three children was re-echoed in many of the advertisements placed in the Missing Friends column over the 85 years of its existence. Few of those who emigrated ever returned to Ireland. Despite loneliness and home sickness they stayed in their adopted country, realising that in America, unlike Ireland, they could find work. Eoin Finn of Bert, Athy, living in New York when last heard of some years prior to 1867 and Hugh Tierney of Geraldine who emigrated to America in 1850 were perhaps typical of their time. They were remembered by their own folk back home in Ireland, even if they had lost contact with family and friends. Sometimes those who had emigrated in the years immediately following the Great Famine were followed on the emigrant trail by younger members of their families as happened in the case of the Brennan family of Athy. Michael Brennan left for America in 1852 to be followed two years later by his brother John and in August 1870 their younger brother Denis, who had lately arrived in America, was seeking information as to their whereabouts.

Another Athy man [and it always seemed to be men who were the subject of enquiries in the Missing Friends column] was mentioned in 1872. Joseph Carroll who emigrated from Athy in 1853 was at one time a Superintendent of a sawmill in St. Louis but had moved from there and like John Foran also of Athy, but laterally of Charleston, left no forwarding address.

Three young men who left Athy in 1845 were being sought 27 years later. There is no record of what happened to brothers William, Thomas and Michael O’Dowd, all of Athy who escaped the worst effects of the Potato Famine when they emigrated to America just a few months after the local Workhouse had opened its doors for the first time. One of the last advertisements in the Boston Pilot of 1873 was placed by Julia Kerrigan of Dracutt Post Office, Massachusetts and formerly of Athy who wanted information on her two sisters - Ann who left the South Kildare town 20 years previously and Margaret who had emigrated 25 years previously.

The advertisements in the Boston Pilot newspaper show that while many family and community ties were shattered by mass emigration from Ireland during the 19th century, efforts continued to be made to rebuild those connections. How successful those attempts to reunite families were we cannot say, but the advertisements placed by the friends and families of Irish emigrants give a fascinating insight into Irish emigration in the 19th century.

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