Help Me Find My People

help-me-find-my-people-cover-197x300As Heather Williams documents in her book, newspaper advertisements provide chilling evidence of the fragmentation and dissolution of African-American families under slavery and heroic attempts after the Civil War to locate family members and rebuild family groups.  We will spend some time in class exploring online resources that might extend or amplify this work, focusing on ante- and post-bellum newspapers for towns and cities in NC now available through, as preparation for more in-depth explorations that will form the basis for individual blog posts.



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You can find directions for this assignment here:




AMST 53H, Spring ‘15

“Help Me Find My People” Project

Project Options

  1. Professor Williams’s research on “Information Wanted” ads focused on the African-American newspapers that emerged in the years immediately following the Civil War. Most African-American newspapers—from whatever period—no longer exist and can’t be researched.  They were never saved; those that might have been saved were not microfilmed.  Thus, we have very few extended runs of African-American newspapers in the North Carolina Collection and little hope of the digitization of newspapers adding greatly to this collection.

However, as you know, we now have nearly the complete pre-1923 local newspaper holdings of the North Carolina Collection available online through the UNC Library website.  Can we find ads placed by African Americans searching for “lost” family members in a wider range of North Carolina newspapers during this period (1865-1885)?  Some questions you might ask:  How do they compare to those Williams has found?  Is the same ad run in multiple papers?  How long after the war do these ads continue to appear?

  1. As Professor Williams notes, we know little about the success families might have had in locating missing family members. Her attempts to “find” the individuals being sought in the public record were limited by the archival and online resources available to her when she was researching and writing her book five or more years ago.  However, you now have access to many more records and much greater search capabilities through and the N.C. Newspapers project.  So, it might actually be possible for you to “find” a few of the people being sought by their wives, husbands, parents, and children.

In addition to census enumerations and newspapers, you might also search for “lost loved one” in the Freedmen’s Bureau records. has several Freedmen’s Bureau collections (click “search,” then “card catalog,” then search for “Freedmen’s”).  These collections are indexed differently from census enumerations, so it will be interested to see how useful they are in this particular search challenge.


  1. The “Information Wanted,” or “Lost Friends,” or “Missing Friends” ads turn out to be an important “search engine” in the 19th century especially for families separated by migration and war. I’ve posted a few examples of the use of these ads in my folder.  Using N.C. newspapers available through, devise a project that explores how these ads were used by other families to try to reconnect with missing family members.


Reflect your research, analysis, and thought about this exercise in a blog post due at the beginning of class on Thursday, Feb. 12.  Please include the primary source material (newspaper ads/articles, census enumerations, etc.) you used so that we can all read them.


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