Evolution of Language in Information Wanted Ads


Information wanted ads in The Christian Recorder were seen by people all over the United States, therefore it was imperative for the wording of the ads to be coherent to all sorts of people.  Many of the people who wrote and read the ads were illiterate because they were former slaves who were not given the chance to have a formal education.  Even without a formal education, he language that was used in the information ads in The Christian Recorder evolved over the years that we examined in our data analysis (1864-1869).  In order to examine the language in the ads, I used a word analysis program (voyant) to highlight the key words of the ads in each year.  Immediately after making the word clouds, I found that location words were consistent throughout every visualization.  This prompted me to make pie charts of the advertisers’ cities in each year to see if the prominent location words in the visualizations were the same as the cities that the advertisers were from.  Some of the years also had major words that had to be examined further by charts and/or more research. 

1864 Analysis

The first year (1864) was analyzed by putting every ad in the voyant tool and looking at the visualization to see the words that were most prominent in 1864.  This word visualization is pictured below:


The word that was used the most was information.  This is no surprise because most of the ads said “information wanted of…” in the beginning.  Other words that appear frequently are names of people, these names were common for the period.  The relationships that are highlighted in the visualization are brother(s) and family.  From the word visualization a conclusion can be drawn that brothers were mostly being searched for in 1864.  Finally, some of the words that are prominent are locations.  By using the visualization it was seem that most of the ads were placed in, or looking for people in Philadelphia, Virginia (VA), Brooklyn, and Baltimore. 

I created a pie chart (below) to analyze the cities that the advertisers were from in 1864 and found that Brooklyn and Baltimore were prominent cities.  Portsmouth, Virginia was also a city that a lot of advertisers were from in 1864.  Comparing the information from the pie chart to the word visualization shows that the cities that the advertisers were from were the cities that were highlighted.  The only city that was not represented by the advertiser city was Philadelphia.  The explanation for Philadelphia in the highlighted position was because The Christian Recorder was published in Philadelphia, therefore the city was mentioned in most of the ads.   1864 chart

1865 Analysis

In 1865, the US Civil War ended.  This resulted in an exponential increase in information wanted ads in The Christian Recorder.  The end of the war also brought a change to the language that was used in the ads.  In the previous year there was little to no mention of slavery.  Even though the word slavery or slave is not specifically mentioned in the 1865 ads, words like “sold” and “owned” were highlighted in the word visualization (below).


The word visualization also highlights the word “years” which focuses on the amount of time that the advertiser and searchee have been separated.  The graph below shows the amount of years that people have been apart according to the data that was analyzed from all of The Christian Recorder information wanted ads from 1864 to 1869.  The graph shows that an overwhelming majorities of people have been separated for four or more years.


Like the 1864 word visualization, 1865 also shows locations as key words.  According to the word visualization, the cities that were mentioned were from a larger area than the cities in 1864.  The locations in the word cloud are:  Virginia, Charleston, Tennessee, Winchester, and Richmond. My hypothesis would be that the cities the advertisers were advertising from would be comparable like they were in 1864.  Unfortunately, that is not the case when the word cloud is compared to a pie chart of advertisers cities in 1865.


The major places that are shown in the word cloud are not a major part of the cities that the advertisers were from.  However, the location data from the visualization is correct by showing that the locations were much more broad than they were the year before.  The pie chart is cluttered with many different cities that the advertisers were from, unlike the chart from 1864 which only included a few east coast cities. The probable reasoning for the increase in the amount of cities mentioned in the word cloud and the pie chart are most likely because the war had ended so African Americans were searching more and more for loved ones that had been separated because of war.

1866 Analysis

The word cloud that examines the ads from 1866 has many of the same words as the previous ads.  The content of the ads does not change because the content does not change.  This word cloud also highlights words that have to deal with slavery, more so than the words of 1865 with the addition of the word “belonged.”  It seems as though the further away from the war the ads are, it is more likely for the advertisers to mention slavery status.  The 1866 word cloud also highlights more familial relationships like “mother,” “brother,” “husband,” and “children.”  The importance of the relationships between people also seem to be more profound after the war, possibly to get the sympathy of the reader by making them think of their own family.


The 1866 word cloud does not have as many location words highlighted as the 1865 cloud.  This most likely means that there were many cities that were mentioned.  No city or cities particularly stood out in having the majority.  When analyzing the data of the cities that the advertisers were from in a pie chart, it shows that the theory of many cities is correct.

1866 chart

The only city that has a slight majority on the pie chart is Philadelphia.  Like 1865, this most likely is because The Christian Recorder was published in Philadelphia.

1867  Analysis

Like the previous ads the content is very similar.  However, the words “ministers” and “congregations” are highlighted in this word cloud.  In the previous word clouds there was no mention of religion, but it is prominent in this visualization.  These advertisements were during a Great Awakening movement in the United States that especially included African Americans.  In the post-war United States the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) gained a lot of members.  Since a lot of people were joining churches, it was a good way to help find any information.  Some ads ask to be read in church so the ad will be heard by many people and more than the subscriber base of The Christian Recorder.


The location words in this word cloud are more definitive than they were in the previous year.  Philadelphia is once again highlighted as a major city in the word cloud and in the pie chart of 1867.

1867 chart

After looking at the pie chart of the cities that the advertisers were from in 1867, it is seen that Chicago is the second (to Philadelphia) city that is searching for loved ones.  However, there is no mention of Chicago or the state of Illinois in the word cloud.  It is strange that Chicago does not show up on the word visualization, but it was most likely not stated as many times as other words that are highlighted.

1868 Analysis


Although words that suggested slavery had been included in some of the previous word clouds, they are particularly prominent in the 1868 visualization.  Here, the word “sold”is much bigger than it was in any of the previous word clouds, meaning that it was stated more times in the ads from 1868.  In 1868, three years have passed since the end of the Civil War so it becomes increasingly acceptable to acknowledge that loved ones were sold and taken away from their families. 

It is interesting to note the prominence of female names in this word cloud.  Female names have made an appearance in every year that has been analyzed so far, but never with this much significance.  When looking at the genders of the advertisers from 1864-1869, it appears that there is an almost even split between males and females.  By using the gender pie chart and comparing it to the word clouds, one can see that there is a fairly even amount of male and female names that appear in the word cloud.


The location words for 1868 that appear in the word cloud are very focused on the east coast, like “Philadelphia,” “VA” (Virginia), and “N.J.” (New Jersey).


The pie chart shows that 1868 was pretty evenly split between cities on the east coast.  In previous years there seems to be representation from people further west placing ads.  I am not sure why the locations of advertisements placed in 1868 were primarily on the east coast.

1869 Analysis


1869 was the last year that we collected data from The Christian Recorder and was the year that was the furthest away from the Civil War.  This word cloud agrees with the hypotheses from the previous data collection because more of an emphasis is placed on words about slavery and religion.  This word cloud also shows the prominence of Philadelphia very clearly.


In the pie chart for 1869, 43% of the advertisers were from Philadelphia.  It seems as though as time goes the ads were located in and around Philadelphia.


For the most part the wording of the ads stay the same from 1864 to 1869 because the content is the same.  Words like “information,” “thankfully,” and “received” show up on every word cloud prominently.  However, the language of the ads definitely changes from 1864 to 1869 specifically when talking about slavery and religion.  I thought that it was interesting that the words “slavery” and “religion” were never specifically stated in the ads they were just talked about using different wording.  Finally, by comparing location words and pie charts of advertisers cities it is easy to analyze the important cities for the ads.  In my own analysis of the locations, it seems that Philadelphia and the east coast are always prominent places.  In the earlier years there is more evidence of The Christian Recorder reaching people outside of the east coast region, by that dissipates by 1869.

This data would be useful when looking at the evolution of language in the information wanted ads.  It would be interesting to compare the advertisers literacy rate throughout the years to see if the inclusion of words related to slavery and religion that appear in later years have a correlation with literacy. 






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