"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,