Voices of the Irish Immigrant: Information Wanted Advertisements from the Truth Teller

In 1829, editors of the Truth Teller, New York City’s first Catholic newspaper, declared, ". . . the most interesting reading imaginable is in a file of old newspaper. It brings up the very age, with all the bustle and every day affairs, and marks its genius and its spirit more than the most labored description of the historian." In the pages of that same newspaper we will find some of the most interesting stories of early 19th century Irish immigrants.

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Thousands of Irish men, women, and children came to North America during the decades preceding the Great Famine, many of them with little more than hope for a better life. Families were frequently separated, perhaps immigrating at various times to various ports, settling in distant locations, or moving from place to place in search of work. The Truth Teller, founded in 1825, offered a means of reaching out to the Irish-American community in search of friends and family. Within its first year of publication, the editors began running “information wanted” advertisements from people looking for relatives or friends with whom they had lost touch. The advertisements reveal details of the ordinary lives of Irish immigrants: their families, work, homes, travels, illnesses, clothing, financial and social standing, political views, and possessions. Many ads include a specific place of origin in Ireland, a detail not easily found for Irish immigrants of this era, and therefore of special interest to genealogists tracing Irish ancestors.
Catharine Moffit, a resident of New York City, placed an ad in December 1832 looking for her teenage son and daughter:

“Two of my children left Montreal on the 17th of October last, and arrived in the city of Troy on the 3d of November ensuing. They are said to have come direct to New York, but have not been heard of by me. The eldest, Elizabeth Moffit, is 15 years of age; the youngest, Thomas Moffit, is 13 years of age - both intelligent and interesting appearance. They are natives of Drumigno, seven miles from Enniskillen, Ireland.”

Thomas Collopy came to the United States from Ireland in the spring of 1840, followed a few months later by his wife, Catherine, a native of Boherload in the parish of Knockay, County Limerick. By November he had yet to receive word from her, and advertised in the Truth Teller. Perhaps Thomas’s ad was responsible for a joyful reunion, for an Irish-born man and woman by the same names were living together in West Troy (Albany Co.), New York nearly a decade later, with two young children in the household – Edward, age 8, and Mary, age 6, both born in New York.

Robert Coveney repeatedly placed ads in search of his brother, Joseph, an infamous “freethinker” who eventually settled in Buchanan, Michigan.(See “One Family’s Story: Robert and Joseph Coveney” at the end of this article.)

Most ads were placed by family and friends looking for information about loved ones, but occasionally they were placed by others, such as organizations, businessmen and officials.

When apprentice Luke Daly ran away from his position, his master placed a warning in the Truth Teller:
“. . . Said Daly is a tall young man, about 19 or 20 years of age; brown hair, and genteel address. Master stone-cutters and builders are hereby cautioned not to employ or harbour him. Said Daly has been encouraged and accompanied in his elopement by Patrick Garvey, stone- cutter, formerly of Drogheda, Shadbally and Market- Hill, Ireland, and lately of Liverpool, England . . ..”

Dr. William J. MacNeven, founder of the Irish Emigrant Association and leader of the Emigrant Assistance Society, placed an ad to inform the public that “a person is going round collecting subscriptions for an unalledged [sic] Emigrant Society, and using my name as authority for the same” but that “no person whatever has any such authority or encouragement from me.”

In May of 1831, readers of the Truth Teller were issued a challenge by 85-year-old Henry M’Closkey:

“Notice – Henry H. M’Closkey, a tenant of Robert Ogilby’s, Esq. of the county of Londonderry, and parish of Dungiven, challenges the world to produce a man to fight him for the sum of five hundred guineas, no matter what size, weight, or colour, (provided he be the same age). He was born on the 12th of May, 1746; he does this to let the world know, that old Ireland always produced the best men under the sun, both in youth and age, and for the honour of his country.”

“Information wanted” advertisements published in the Truth Teller between its inception in April 1825 and December 1844 have been transcribed and indexed in Voices of the Irish Immigrant, recently published by The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Five separate indexes are included to provide access to the ads based on personal names, places in the United States, places in Ireland, places in countries other than the United States and Ireland, and New York City streets.

Those of us with Irish ancestry will no doubt be fascinated by the glimpses into early nineteenth-century lives presented in the Truth Teller’s ads. They are at the same time useful to genealogists who may find their ancestors mentioned with a specific point of origin, as well as fascinating reading for anyone who is interested in the lives of ordinary people during this period of history.

One Family's Story: Robert and Joseph Coveney

How did the name of a proclaimed “infidel” get into the Truth Teller, a staunchly Catholic newspaper? Some of the families that advertised in the Truth Teller have interesting stories behind the information in their want ads. Take for instance the Coveney family. The first ad placed by the family seems to be the one appearing on August 30, 1834. The ad reads as follows:

Robert Coveny who sometime since was a coachman to a family in the upper part of the Twelfth Ward. He will hear something to his advantage by calling upon Flanagan & Duryee, 160 Nassau Street.

Robert Coveny himself seems to have placed an ad years later in the Truth Teller looking for Joseph. On January 28, 1839, the following ad appeared in the Truth Teller:

Of Joseph Covney, a native of Cork, Ireland, and a Carpenter and Joiner by trade. When last heard of in 1833, was in Pottsville, Pa., it is supposed that he has moved to Chicago, in company with a McAvery, carpenter and millwright. Any information respecting him, will be thankfully received by his brother, Robert Covney, city of Buffalo.

The family apparently found the Truth Teller ads a useful means of keeping track of each other, even though their religious leanings, in particular those of Joseph, were diametrically opposed to those expressed in the newspaper. Joseph’s story in America can be deciphered well beyond the few facts appearing in Robert’s ad.
The story of the Coveney family in America begins with Joseph, who arrived in New York at the age of 20 in 1825.  He seems to have been destitute and without financial assistance from anyone, because his name appears on the Bond Registers for the New York City Almshouse, for June 18, 1825, about a month after his arrival. Joseph Coveney may have lacked money and friendship in his early days in America, but he certainly did not lack ambition. He learned and later mastered the carpentry trade. It was also during his early life in America that he was reading newspaper articles by Thomas Paine, which would later influence his views on religion.


When the California Gold Rush occurred, Joseph went west and earned good money working as a carpenter there. When living in Buchanan, Michigan, he bought a good deal of real estate and became a prosperous farmer. He was well-known and respected in Buchanan for his generosity in providing additional financial support to the public school, but he was most known for his freethinking ideals.

In Ireland Joseph had been an Episcopalian, but he became an atheist after reading the works of Paine and Voltaire. He openly expressed his views to anyone at anytime and his tombstone in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Buchanan is a tribute to his freethinking ideals. The ornate tombstone has become something of a tourist attraction because of its bold and irreverent statements. A few examples are as follows: “Nature is the true God. Science the true religion. The more religion, the more lying. The more Saints, The more Hypocrites.”There was even an article on his death in the New York Times with the headline “Death of an Infidel: Last Words of Joseph Coveney of Michigan were ‘Die as I lived.’”

Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral
(built 1815, rebuilt after fire 1868),
wheremany of the mid-19th century
Irish immigrants worshipped,
Mott and Prince Streets.

obert Cove­ney, brother of the freethinking Joseph, settled in Buffalo, New York, where he led a seemingly ordinary life as a grocer and later a captain in the cavalry. He seems to have died sometime in the 1860s. It is doubtful that Robert ever got a response to his ad in the Truth Teller concerning Joseph, because Robert later placed another almost identical ad in the Truth Teller and the Boston Pilot seeking information on him. Whether or not Joseph knew his brother was looking for him, and if he did, why he chose not to respond to the ad, may never be known. Robert probably was unaware of his brother’s freethinking views and ironically chose the Truth Teller, a religiously oriented newspaper, as the instrument of choice for seeking Joseph, the famous freethinker from County Cork, Ireland.


1. “Old Newspapers,” Truth Teller, 29 Aug. 1829.

2. Information Wanted ad seeking Elizabeth and Thomas Moffit, Truth Teller, 29 Dec. 1832.

3. Information Wanted ad seeking Catherine, wife of Thos. Collopy, Truth Teller, 14 Nov. 1840.

4. Thomas Collopy household, 1850 U.S. Census, Albany Co.., N.Y. (Village of West Troy, Town of Watervliet), p. 112. National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, roll 474. Examined on Ancestry.com.

5. Information Wanted ads seeking Joseph Coveney, Truth Teller 28 Jan. 1839, Truth Teller 13 April 1844; Ad seeking Joseph Coveney, 31 Jan. 1857, The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in The Boston Pilot 1831-1920 (Online Database: NewEnglandAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2005), (The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in The Boston Pilot, 1831-1920, edited by Ruth-Ann M. Harris and B. Emer O’Keefe.), hereafter The Search for Missing Friends.

6. Information Wanted ad regarding Luke Daly, Truth Teller, 21 July 1827.

7. Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City 1825-1863 (1949; repr. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994), p. 34.

8. Information Wanted ad entitled “Caution,” Truth Teller, 3 Sept. 1831.

9. Information Wanted ad entitled “Notice,” Truth Teller, 21 May 1831.

10. Note there are some gaps where issues of the newspaper were unavailable.

11. “Death of an Infidel,” New York Times 31 Feb. 1897, p. 7. Examined on ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Infidel was a word used in describing Joseph Coveney in his New York Times obituary, however his family preferred to refer to him as a freethinker.

12. The History of Buchanan and Van Buren Counties, Michigan (Philadelphia: D.W. Ensign & Company, 1880), p.101; Memoirs of Lelia A. Coveney Diltz, MS., Buchanan Public Library, Local History Collection, Buchanan, Michigan. The history of Buchanan states he landed in New York 26 May 1826 in the ship William, but the memoirs of Lelia A. Coveney Diltz state he arrived in New York at the age of 20 in 1825.

13. Lorine Schulze and Laura Freeman, transcribers, “Alms House Admission Foreigners & Nativity Records with Ships Names 1824 (New York City, NY),” OliveTreeGenealogy.com22 July 2005. Source: “Alms House Admission Foreigner and Nativity Records New York City, New York Item 5 LDS Film 1304647 Bond Registers 1819-1840. Original records in the Municipal Archives, New York, New York.” Staff at the Municipal Archives state that the corresponding microfilm is missing from their collection.

14. “Joseph Coveney,” MS., Buchanan Public Library, Local History Collection, Buchanan, Michigan.

15. “Vandals Attack Freethought Monument,” Free Inquiry, Vol. 12 (Winter 1991/92), p. 15.

16. “Joseph Coveney,” MS., Buchanan Public Library, Local History Collection, Buchanan, Michigan.

17. “Buchanan’s Man of Century,” copy of a clipping dated 14 July 1958 from an unidentified periodical provided by Buchanan Public Library, Local History Collection, Buchanan, Michigan.

18. “Death of an Infidel,” New York Times 13 February 1897, p. 7.

19. 1844 Walker’s City Directory, Buffalo, New York, p. 82; Robert Coveny household, 1860 U.S. Census, Erie Co., NY (City of Buffalo, Ward 8), p. 562, line 29. National Archives Microfilm Publication M653, roll 747. Examined on HeritageQuest Online.

20. Thomas’ Buffalo City Directory for 1862-1868. Directory information provided by The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. An Ellen Coveney was listed as “widow of Robert” in 1865; Ellen was the name of the second wife of the man of interest.

21. Ad seeking Joseph Coveney, 31 Jan. 1857, The Search for Missing Friends


by Diane Fitzpatrick Haberstroh, MLS, and Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG

© 2011 The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society

All rights reserved.