In 1869 the New York Irish-American Weekly came out on Christmas Day. As with every week’s issue, a portion of the paper was given over to “Information Wanted” advertisements. Most often placed by family and friends, these notices were usually attempts by emigrants to enlist the wider Irish American community in efforts to re-establish contact with their relatives. The brief stories they tell can be heart-breaking, as parents and siblings sought news of immediate family from whom they had often not heard in years. Such absences would have been felt especially keenly felt at Christmas. The post below reproduces the Information Wanted Ads from this week 150 years ago, and examines what we can uncover about both these families and Irish American life through reading them.
INFORMATION WANTED Of Henry Martin. When last seen was at 19 Nevin Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., last June. Any information received by his sister Norah Martin, 154 Front street, Hartford, Conn.
INFORMATION WANTED Of William Finlan, who left Hara on the 19th of March last, for Baraboo Wis.; was a constant workman at jack spinning in a woolen factory. He left that place and nothing has been heard of him since. Any information of him, dead or alive, will be thankfully received by his wife, Mrs. Mary Ann Finlan, at West Eaton, Madison Co., N.Y. Eastern and Western papers please copy.
It was relatively common among Irish emigrants for the main breadwinner to travel far and wide in search of employment. For those on the east coast, those opportunities often lay in the Midwest. The Finlans may have intended to move all the family out west once William was established, or perhaps he was simply seeking a short-term opportunity to remit money back to New York. Either way, it seems Mary Ann still had no news of William by the time the census enumerators called on her in July 1870. The reason she was desperate for information from her husband was readily apparent. The 29-year-old Irish emigrant was providing for five young children. Her eldest, 10-year-old Edward, had already gone to work in the local mill to supplement the household income. 9-year-old William was still at school, though he was likely about to also enter the workforce. In addition, Mary Ann was providing for 6-year-old James, 3-year-old Thomas, and 2-year-old Mary Ann.
INFORMATION WANTED Of Michael Cain, who left Walsal, Staffordshire, England on 1st of May, 1865. Was in Deposit two years ago, last May; and when last heard from was in Boston, Mass. Any information of him will be thankfully received by his father, Hugh Cain, and his brother, John Cain, at 32 Marshal street, Paterson, New Jersey. Boston papers please copy.
The Cain family are a prime example of Irish step-migrants. The entire group had been born in Ireland, but all of them were living in Walsall in England when the 1861 Census was taken. In 1861 they were in that town’s “Foreign Ward”, where 48-year-old Hugh was “jobbing”. In the household with him was his 47-year-old wife Bridget, his 20-year-old son John and 17-year-old son Michael (the subject of the ad, whose departure was imminent), both of whom worked as painters, Hugh’s 25-year-old Irish-born niece Catherine Barlow, who worked in the buckle industry, and his 25-year-old nephew Martin Beaty, also a painter. It was common for single men and women to board with other Irish families, and in that way contribute towards the household– this was particularly the case if they were related. During the 1860s, all of the Cains would move to America.
Michael Casey will be much obliged to any person who can give information of his sister Delia Casey, native of county Galway, born in the parish of Clarron, near Headford, who sailed from Ireland about two years ago from this country. When last heard of was living in Brooklyn. Her father was agent for Captain Carter, of Dublin. All communications will please be addressed to this office.
INFORMATION WANTED OF Patrick Cosgruth, of the Parish of Clonfert, County Galway, Ireland. The last letter was received from him when he was in Mount Savage, Maryland. Any information concerning him will be thankfully received by Michael Quirk, Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa. Iowa papers please copy.
INFORMATION WANTED Of Bridget Muclahy, who left Cashel, County of Tipperary, Ireland, about twenty years ago. When last heard from she was married to James Skeahan, and residing in Springfield, Mass. Any information respecting her, dead or alive, will he thankfully received by her mother, Catherine Glashine, now resident in Bloomington, Illinois. Please address William Hackett, Bloomington, Ill.
It seems probable that Catherine “Glashine” was actually Catherine Gleeson. In the 1870 Census, she was 53-years-old, keeping house in Bloomington with her 20-year-old son Patrick, a laborer, and 16-year-old son Michael. Although she had not seen Bridget in 20 years, Catherine had herself been in the country for a considerable length of time. While Patrick had been born in Ireland, Michael had come along when Catherine was in Ohio. One of the reasons she may have sought the assistance of William Hackett is that Catherine was illiterate. In addition, the Hacketts were also all Irish, and may well also have been from the Cashel area.
INFORMATION WANTED Of the Widow Newman, maiden name Anne Masterson, formerly of the parish of Duderry, County Meath, Ireland. When last heard from lived in North Fourth street, Williamsburg, Long Island; or, JOHN NEWMAN or family, who lived in Prince street, New York. Any information of them will be thankfully received by their cousin, Michael Newman, son of James Newman, Ottawa Post-Office, Lasselle [La Salle] County, State of Illinois. Williamsburg and New York papers please copy.
Whether Michael ever found Anne is unknown. In 1880 he was still living in La Salle County, where he had a farm in Allen. His children told the story of his step-journey westwards. In 1880 along with his 47-year-old Irish-born wife Emma the 47-year-old lived with his 23-year-old housekeeper daughter Mary, born in Pennsylvania, and 21-year-old Annie, 17-year-old Michael, 16-year-old Martin, 14-year-old Thomas and 11-year-old William, all of whom had been born after they arrived in Illinois.
INFORMATION WANTED Of Thomas Mulvee, a native of Skrine, Parish of Kilmane, County of Roscommon, Ireland, who came to this country about four years ago. When last heard from he was in Chicago, State of Illinois. Any information of him will be thankfully received by his brother, Michael Mulvee, 500 West street, New York. Chicago papers please copy.
INFORMATION WANTED Of Thomas Mulvaa, a native of Schrina, parish of Kilmane, county Roscommon, Ireland, who came to this country about four years ago. When last heard from he was in Chicago, Ill. Information of him will be thankfully received by Michael Mulvaa, 500 West street, New York.
Both of the above were printed in the Christmas Day issue of the Irish-American, even though they are clearly ads for the same individual. It would seem to be an error on the part of the editor, but it does reveal that the newspaper mediated advertisements, sometimes re-wording ads they obtained from semi-literate individuals. The second advertisement seems likely to be closer to what Michael originally submitted, as it is more phonetic in spelling– for example “Mulvaa” and “Schrina”. The surname is most commonly rendered today as “Mulvey”. This ad also serves as a good example for the extreme variability in how people spelt their own surnames in the nineteenth century.
INFORMATION WANTED Of John, Hugh, and Cecelia Morgan, natives of the parish of Kilcoo, Co. Down Ireland, who immigrated to this country upwards of twenty years ago. When last heard from they were in the town of China, Wyoming Co., N.Y. Any information respecting them will be thankfully received by their nephew, Francis Morgan, residing at Stamford, Conn.
It seems likely that Francis had a successful response to this ad, as Hugh Morgan is recorded in Java, Wyoming County in 1870. He was a 50-year-old farmer, living with his Irish-born wife, 40-year-old Mary, and children Mary Jane (16), Ellen (14), Thomas (12), all of whom worked on the farm, Mary (10) and William (8), who were at school, and toddler Susan (2). All the children had been born in New York. Although their sons and daughters had to leave education young to help with the property, they still had better educational opportunities than Hugh and Mary, both of whom were unable to read and write.
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New York Irish American Weekly 25th December 1869.
1880 U.S. Federal Census.
1870 U.S. Federal Census.
1861 English Census.