Newspaper Ads Freedmen Filed for Family Reunification Aid African American Genealogy TodayHistorians in the News
tags: Reconstruction, genealogy, African American history
Between 1820 and 1860, as the cotton industry in the United States boomed, about one million enslaved people were forcibly relocated from states in the upper South to the plantations of the Deep South. Historians call this the Second Passage, echoing the first forced migration of the Middle Passage.
After the Civil War, these newly-emancipated people tried to reunite their families. Thousands of them placed advertisements in their local newspapers, providing as many details as they could about when they last saw their loved ones and who they were sold to. One ad placed by Henry Anderson in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1895 began, "I would like to find my people."
Many of these families were never reunited. But their messages are being collected and archived by historians and genealogists, and archives like the Last Seen Project and the Georgetown Memory Project are now helping their descendants find their people.
In the segment you can hear professional voice artists from the Last Seen Project reading ads and messages, placed of 19th century Black Americans who were searching for family after the end of legal American slavery.
Rachel Swarns, contributing writer at the New York Times and an associate professor of journalism at NYU, joined us to discuss her recent reporting on people who are using archives to find their ancestors who had been enslaved. Dr. Blair Kelley, a professor of history at North Carolina State University and incoming director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also joined and she's done research into her own lost ancestors, and working on her forthcoming book, “Black Folk: The Promise of the Black Working Class.”
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