When humans were treated as chattel and sold at whim, it was not uncommon for families to be split apart based on the economic needs of their owner.
Following emancipation, and for a generation to come, there were former slave families trying their best to reconnect with their children, parents, and siblings. There were no electronic databases or the kinds of Red Cross efforts we make now to help people scattered by something like Hurricane Katrina to find their way back together.
American former slaves ofter turned to the African American press for help in the form of small classified type ads. Here are three from The Christian Recorder in the 1880s. These and other records are easily found in the Accessible Archives Database in the African American Newspapers Collection..
To me, its heartbreaking to see someone like Alice L. Brown looking for help. She was sold thirty-odd years before when she was little more than a child, but she was plenty old enough to know her family and want to find them again.
INFORMATION WANTED CONCERNING my brother Joe and George Nelson, who enlisted in the Union army near Athens, Ala., in 1883. We formerly belonged to John S. Nelson, who lived within nine miles of Athens, Ala, on the Elk River. Our mother’s name was Nancy Nelson, who died when I was two years old. My maiden name was Bettie Nelson. My name at present in Bettie Cox; am 33 years old. Address Bettie Cox, Columbus, Kansas.
INFORMATION WANTED OF MY MOTHER and father. My father’s name was Jacob Chambers; my mother’s, Jenny Chambers. They lived in Rockingham, Virginia. I was sold from them to the speculators and they brought me and Sister Mary to Mississippi. I left two brothers there-Ned and Jack. Any information will be thankful received. Address Rachel Jackson, Warren Mission, Vicksburg, Miss.
INFORMATION WANTED OF MY FATHER William Brown, and my two brothers, George and Kenry Clary Brown, whom I left in Louisville, KY, some thirty odd years ago. Brother Henry Clay, and myself belonged at that time to a merchant by the name of John D. Baker. I was sold to traders Arterburn and Garrison, when a girl about 13 or 14 years of age. Any information of my father or brothers will be most thankful received. Address, Kide Ann Brown, care of Alice L. Brown, Weedville, Miss., Wilkinson County.