The ads are gut-wrenching, such as, “Where is John Person?”
“Ten years have gone by since his mother, Hannah Cole, last saw him. The pain of his disappearance, the mystery of his whereabouts, and the aching question of whether he is alive or dead have driven her to take out an advertisement in the Christian Recorder, seeking an answer.
“This is the only child I have,” it reads, “and I desire to find him much.”
The date is June 23, 1865, and Cole is on a quest that would consume former slaves such as herself for decades after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, leaving a trail of heartbreak and hope in newspaper classified columns. Mothers search for children sold away. Husbands long for wives torn from them years before. Sons and daughters hope for any clue about a lost parent whom they would “most gratefully receive.”
Now, a project by Villanova University and Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia will make the classified ads easily accessible. The goal of “Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery” is an online database of these snapshots from history, which hold names of former slaves, owners, traders, plantation locations, and relatives gone missing. So far, project researchers have uploaded and transcribed 1,000 ads published in six newspapers from 1863 to 1902: the South Carolina Leader in Charleston, the Colored Citizen in Cincinnati, the Free Man’s Press in Galveston, the Black Republican in New Orleans, the Colored Tennessean in Nashville, and the Christian Recorder, the official organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination published at Mother Bethel.
This sounds like a great source of genealogy information. You can read more in an article by Kristin E. Holmes in The Inquirer web site at: https://goo.gl/cS2QBh.