People looking for missing relatives and friends from Ireland would place ads in the Boston Pilot (1831-1921) newspaper because of its wide circulation. Although published in Boston, ads flooded in from everywhere. It is within these want ads you often immigrant origins preserved and where various family members settled. Databases can be found on the websites of Ancestry, Boston College and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
What if Your Ancestor is Not Listed in the Database
When you find your ancestor, then your research really opens up. However, what if you don’t find your ancestors listed? I have found these databases are much deeper and can be used in many more ways than a simple straightforward search. Some of my favorite strategies are below.
Secondary Strategies for Using the Boston Pilot Database
Place Names: I may not know where a person was from in Ireland; however, I know where they settled. Use the search feature to identify all Irish who settled in that locality. Who was looking for people who settled in a particular state, city or with that surname? Once you study these ads, does a pattern emerge? For example, are most the ads looking for people from County Roscommon? If so, then you might have stumbled upon where your ancestor was from.
This strategy can also be used in reverse when you know the county in Ireland but you cannot identify a parish. Who from that county were placing ads for people living where your ancestor settled? Does a pattern emerge?
Associate Names: In research, we always assume the godparents at children’s christenings were friends and family of the parents. Then we wonder if they may have known them in Ireland prior to immigrating. Using this logic, take the names of the godparents as found in the immigrant parish and run them through the Boston Pilot databases. Does a pattern emerge? Who is looking for them or who are they looking for?
Religion: Do not assume everybody placing ads were Catholic or even practicing Catholic. Upon immigrating many Irish Catholics either dropped out of church or switched denominational affiliations. I see this all the time. So just because your ancestor became a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian or Adventist, do not assume they would not place an ad in the Jesuit published Boston Pilot. Also, do not assume nobody is looking for them!
With these few extra strategies, the Boston Pilot databases may actually yield where your family came from. These are not straightforward searches, but they have worked for many in many cases.