From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

"Information Wanted" (Newspaper ads)

Placing ads in African American newspapers was one method former enslaved people used to search for family members who had been taken away, ran away, or been left behind. This type of search was a long shot given the extremely low literacy rate among the former enslaved. Success depended on someone reading the ad, recognizing the names, and contacting the persons mentioned in the ad.

There is no evidence to support the success or failure of the practice, which was continued into the 21st Century. As early as 1865, the standard heading for the ads was "Information Wanted." An example in the June 24, 1870 edition of The Elevator newspaper [CA] on p. 4 reads

            Mrs. Charlotte Powell of Sacramento
            wishes information of her relatives,
            consisting of her father, mother, three
            brothers, and two sisters. Her father's
            name was Sam Mosley; he was owned
            by a man named Joe Powell, who lived  
            in Kentucky at a place called Amandy. 

Five years earlier, The Black Republican newspaper [LA] ran a series of "Information Wanted" ads with very brief content; the following comes from the April 29, 1865 issue, p. 2:

            Mrs. Ritty Green wishes to find her
            son Dudley Green. Both are from
            Scott County Kentucky, near
            Georgetown. Any information
            respecting him may be addressed
            to this newspaper. ap29.

The ads sometimes included a line encouraging other African American newspapers to copy and run the ad, such as the following, published in The Freeman newspaper [IN] on April 18, 1891, p. 8:

            Of, "Billie" Kay, sometimes known as
            Billie Burse, who thirty-five or
            eight years ago lived in Hopkinsville,
            Ky., but shortly afterward moved to
            the state of Missouri. The name Kay
            was his master's name, by which
            he was generally known. Any
            information relative to him or children
            will be thankfully received by Mrs.
            Susan Hillyard, Indianapolis. Care
            of the Freeman. [Missouri paper
            please call attention.]

The ads continued to be published by African American newspapers until the late 1940s but with a noticeable change that had started around 1900: more ads were being published for relatives and friends in search of those they had lost contact with well after the Civil War as well as ads for agencies such as insurance companies that were searching for missing heirs. The change was actually a return to the previous use of the "Information Wanted" ads prior to 1865 in reference to free African Americans.

The ads appeared in the Frederick Douglass' Paper as early as 1854. An example is the following ad printed June 30, 1854, on p. 3:

            Evelina Evans, who resided in New
            York City in the year 1850, left that
            city and went to Canada the same
            year; since that time she has not
            been heard from by her relations.
            Her husband's name was James
            Evans. Address her uncle, Henry
            Jackson, Evansville, Indiana. Papers
            friendly to the cause of Humanity,
            please notice.

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Elevator (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Black Republican (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Freeman [Indianapolis Freeman] (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Frederick Douglass' paper (newspaper)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“"Information Wanted" (Newspaper ads),” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed January 28, 2023, http://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/2612.

Last modified: 2022-08-22 16:47:27