Reconstruction: The Search for Reuniting African American Families in Postbellum America

Life for African Americans can never be characterized as one of freedom, acceptance, and ease. Despite Fox News’s Eric Bolling recent assurances, racism still exists and permeates the fabric of American society. For example, New York’s Stop and Frisk policy has, according to statistics, a racially motivated agenda. But as frustrating and unjust as the treatment of African Americans can be considered today, life was far bleaker for blacks before the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which, as we know, abolished slavery and other forms of forced servitude).

One brutal aspect of reality faced by those captured or born into slavery was the absence of a biological family unit on plantations or other properties. Rather than be allowed to grow up and work with their parents, slave children were often sold to the highest white bidder for a decent sum of money. Solomon Northup’s narrative, Twelve Years a Slave, illustrates well the devastation around such a separation:

“The same man also purchased Randall. The little fellow was made to jump, and run across the floor, and perform many other feats, exhibiting his activity and condition. All the time the trade was going on, Eliza [Randall’s mother] was crying aloud, and wringing her hands. She besought the man not to buy him, unless he also bought her self and Emily [Randall’s sister]. She promised, in that case, to be the most faithful slave that ever lived. The man answered that he could not afford it, and then Eliza burst into a paroxysm of grief, weeping plaintively . . . A great many times she repeated her former promises – how very faithful and obedient she would be; how hard she would labor day and night, to the last moment of her life, if he would only buy them all together. But it was of no avail; the man could not afford it. The bargain was agreed upon, and Randall must go alone. Then Eliza ran to him; embraced him passionately; kissed him again and again; told him to remember her – all the while her tears falling in the boy’s face like rain.” (Northup, Twelve Years)

 

Example of Information Wanted Advertisement in The Christian Recorder. Photo courtesy of Accessible Archives.

Example of Information Wanted Advertisement in The Christian Recorder. Photo courtesy of Accessible Archives.

The image that Northup paints describes a heartbreaking, yet common occurrence. According to the American Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper, The Christian Recorder, his account of the slave auction was the norm. Although created to be a community newsletter for African Americans, The Christian Recorder became far more than a simple tool for notification of events. Along with community announcements, The Christian Recorder printed ‘Information Wanted’ advertisements. In these advertisements, hundreds of people paid for a small section of a paper in order to request information regarding the whereabouts of a lost loved one. Details that the advertisers included in the articles varied, but several citied the reason for separation as the result of being bought or sold in the slave system.

After a brief recount of the broken nature of African American families, we can assume that, with emancipation, former slaves and even freedmen were desperate to reconnect with their loved ones. For many, placing advertisements in newspapers like The Christian Recorder served as the solution for this period of ‘great reuniting.’ Fortunately, as student of Villanova University, I have access to several years worth of Information Wanted advertisements. So, once I was able to get my hands on these documents, I started to research the people who were placing these ads and their relationships with those for whom they were searching.


Advertisements and Gender

The first step I had taken in my relationship analysis was in deciding the overall scope of the study. As I was interested in learning more about family reconnections post-Civil War, I felt that the proper starting point was the April 29, 1865 issue, or the first publication after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union forces at the Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9th. As the Information Wanted advertisements continued to the last issue transcribed by the newspaper’s host site (Accessible Archives) on June 12, 1869, I thought that ending my research there would be appropriate. With those dates as my scope, I found two hundred and thirty-one advertisements transcribed by both Accessible Archives and my peers in Villanova’s Digital History class. 

In order to tackle my research project, I decided to narrow the data categories that my classmates and I had collected from those two hundred and thirty-one ads. Rather than using all forty-two categories my class had agreed upon for our communal document, I focused on four in particular: gender and location of advertiser, gender of searchee, and the relation of the advertiser to searchee. After creating my document, I thought an interesting starting point in data analysis would be in the gender of those placing the wanted advertisements.

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As we can observe from the graph, men placed one hundred and seventeen advertisements during the months and years of my research scope; in comparison, women filed one hundred and twenty-six. Although the difference is slight, we can see that more women were placing ads than men in this postbellum time period. By now, you are probably thinking one of two things: what could be the reason for more women placing advertisements in the newspaper; or, the numbers I have given do not add up to two hundred and thirty-one. Well, both of those questions can be answered in the next area that I explored during my research.

 The reason that the total of male and female advertisers exceeds the number of Information Wanted ads placed is because multiple people could file a single advertisement. For example, I had several instances where a mother and father placed an ad together. That, then, brought me to the next aspect of my research (and a possible answer for why more women had placed ads than men), which, as we have discussed, was what were the connections of the advertiser to the searchee.


Advertisements and Relationships

            Although the analysis of these relationships was certainly a more involved and time-consuming endeavor, the information I learned from this aspect of my project was a bit more thought-provoking than simply comparing gender results.

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As the above graph shows, the majority of those placing advertisements looking for long lost loved ones leans unquestionably in the direction of parents (94 ads). With what we’ve learned from Northup’s account, this parental majority does not come as much of a surprise. What was a bit of a shock, however, was the group who placed second in filing the most ads. Rather than children searching for the parents they had been stripped from (which, if I was a betting woman, would have been where I placed my chips), siblings were more likely to file ads looking for one another. Surprised, I could not help but wonder:

  • How long did a siblings typically stay together under slavery?
  • How often were separated siblings in contact with one another?
  • Were siblings searching for each other because they mostly likely served in war?
  • Were siblings searching for each other based on probability of being alive? 

Although these questions are outside the scope of my project, further research could certainly shed more light on the reason behind siblings being the second most likely group to place advertisements in The Christian Recorder

 


 

Gender and Relations

After discovering which groups of relatives were placing the most advertisements, I felt that another practical form of analysis for my new data interpretation was to, once again, add gender into the mix. So, my questions now became what parent was searching the most? What sibling, or child? 

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What we can observe:

  • Wives and Husbands are searching for one another with the same amount of frequency.
  • Fathers, Daughters, Sons, and Sisters have similar advertisement placing trends.
  • Mothers are the most prevalent advertiser filing Information Wanted ads. Give the data presented from the previous two charts, this fact is certainly no surprise.

Interestingly, the second group with the highest numbers of ads placed are men in search of their long lost sibling. Again, the questions I posed in the previous section remain: why are siblings placing a large portion of the ads and, given this new data, why are the sibling advertisers mostly men? These questions inspired me in my research for the last leg of my project, a focus on a particular sibling Information Wanted advertisement. 


Further Research

 When I had been in the planning stages of my project and just began to formulate the questions I wanted to research, I could have never imagined I would find such interesting results. Although I am fascinated with the fact that mothers placed advertisements far more than any other relative group, I have to admit that I became personality invested in one particular sibling story and, thus, decided to research their story a bit more.

On February 16, 1867, Amanda E. Andrew placed an advertisement requesting information regarding the whereabouts of her brother, Jacob Andrews. The ad included information about Jacob’s service in Pennsylvania’s 8th Reserve Regiment and his last known location. But, what drew me to Amanda’s advertisement was the town she gave – Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – for her location. Wilkes-Barre just happens to be my hometown!

Once I had made that personal connection with Amanda’s advertisement, I was determined to find more information about Jacob and to see if the two had reunited at some point in time. To begin my search for Jacob, I decided to plug the information garnered from the advertisement to Ancestry.com’s search criteria. The search for a ‘Jacob Andrews’ resulted with a plethora of possibilities. Needing to narrow my results, I then searched for only those who had served in the military during the Civil War. Again, I received far more results then I had expected. Unfortunately, none of the second phase results specified James’s race or matched with Amanda’s assurance of him fighting with the 8th Regiment.

As I became more than a little frustrated with the overabundance of unsure possibilities, I decided to move on and try to locate Amanda through Ancestry’s search. Unlike Jacob, there was just one result for an ‘Amanda E. Andrew.’ Excited, I opened that result to find our advertiser in the 1850 census. For me, this find was golden. The census record gave me Amanda’s birth year (c. 1845), her location (Franklin, Pennsylvania), and race (Mulatto). The true gem, however, came in the section of the census titled “Other Household Members,” where one Jacob Andrew was listed.

Jacob Andrew service record. Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com

Jacob Andrew service record. Photo courtesy of Ancestry.com

After finding Jacob Andrew in the 1850 census (recorded as being ten years old, just the right age to serve in the Civil War), I decided to edit my search on Ancestry to ‘Jacob Andrew’ rather than ‘Andrews.’ Once I had, again, narrowed my search to those that had served in the military, I found Jacob within no time! There he was, Jacob Andrew from Franklin, PA, who served in the 8th United States Colored Infantry. Although the result I found was missing the ‘s’ on Andrew, I felt safe in assuming that I had found Amanda’s brother.

Finding Jacob’s record was such a breakthrough because I found information connecting him to Amanda, as well as was able to discover when he had enlisted in the Union army (1863). After finding out Jacob served in the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry, I decided to further research how involved the regiment was in the actual fighting. From the group’s establishment in 1861, the 8th Regiment fought in their fair share of battles ranging from the collisions at Mechanicsburg, Fredericksburg, South Mountain, and even the Second Battle of Bull Run. Fortunately, those high casualty (and Confederate victory) battles occurred before Jacob had enlisted. That said, Jacob likely fought in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864.

Although the 8th Regiment did suffer hundreds of casualties due to fighting and disease, I do know that Jacob survived the war. According to Family Search’s accounts on the 8th United States Colored Infantry, Private Jacob Andrews (again, potential last name discrepancy) was drafted on August 14, 1864 and “mustered out with Company C on November 10, 1865.” From that point, I have a feeling that Jacob eventually went on to find Amanda in Wilkes-Barre. Unfortunately, I was unable to find more census or tax records from Jacob on Ancestry, but I did find two potential leads for continued research. By just searching ‘Andrew’ and ‘Wilkes-Barre,’ I found two women that could be Jacob’s daughters. Laura B. Hazen (née Andrew) and Mary C. Neff (née Andrew) were both born in Franklin, PA, with a Jacob Andrew listed as their father. Oddly, both Laura and Mary were documented to have died in 1909 in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Although I would love to claim that these women were our Jacob’s daughters and that he lived a nice life in Wilkes-Barre, I cannot be certain. However, this is definitely a nice thought and something that I would love the opportunity to research further.


Future Work?

Truth be told, my heart has been captured by the Andrew family and I plan to continue researching into this family’s history until I am able to find information regarding how the lives of our Jacob and Amanda unfolded. If I do continue Andrew family research, I would extend my focus to incorporate the other family members listed in that 1850s census. Through this, I would attempt to answer those sibling relation questions I posed previously. 

Another area that I would be interested in continuing to research is more about the mother’s who placed the majority of the Information Wanted advertisements. I am curious to discover the reasoning behind more mothers posting ads than fathers. Were women more literate than men and could therefore place ads themselves? How many mothers were also searching for husbands? From there, further research could incorporate the location of these women. Did the mother’s placing advertisements live near one another? If so, could that lead to more research about African American women communities? While I am not sure these questions all have answers, I do intend to continuing researching to find out! 


Sources

8th United States Colored Infantry 

13th Amendment

Accessible Archives

Battle of Spotsylvania

Family Search – 8th U.S. Colored Infantry 

Family Search – Company C

Fox News’s Eric Bolling

Stop and Frisk

Twelve Years a Slave Excerpt 

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