Category Archives: Information Wanted Ads

Digging Into Data: African American Education and Self-perceptions in Postbellum America

Going through the data compiled from the “Information Wanted” advertisements in The Christian Recorder, I wanted to explore the hidden messages behind a wealth of variables and numbers. Having investigated the history of African American Education before and after the antebellum period in my digital article, I narrowed down the research topic as to the possible positive correlation between the increasing number of advertisers and the expanding of schools for African Americans after the end of the Civil War.

According to a timeline made by University of Michigan for the education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007, only 10% of African Americans had the basic reading and writing skills in 1865, while the literacy rate of this ethnic group increased to 19%  in 1870. Compared to white Americans whose literacy rate amounted to 92.5% in 1870, African Americans still lagged far behind. Nevertheless, given the staggering number of illiterates, they made great strides in education, almost doubling the literacy rate within 5 years after the end of the Civil War. After a preliminary review of the 700-cell Excel spreadsheet transcribed by the class, I found that there are concurrent trends between the growing number of people who placed the “Information Wanted” ads in the Christian Recorder and the rising number of black schools among the locations of these advertisers from 1863 to 1869. The coincidence of these upward trends piqued my curiosity. Therefore, in this project I decided to uncover several factors that might explain this coincidence.

Descriptions of Primary Source 

The Christian Recorder, the oldest existing black periodical in America, has been fervently provided a voice for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) and black Americans since its first publication in July 1, 1852. Although it focused on religious news, it also addressed various secular issues about the black community, especially about family reunion, justice, equal rights, and education. For example, The Christian Recorder held an exclusive section dedicated for posting “Information Wanted” ads , from which African Americans could request information about the whereabouts of their missing loved family members by paying a small amount of money.

The Christian Recorder, April 28, 1866 issue.

The Christian Recorder, April 28, 1866 issue.

In Digital History Summer 2014 class at Villanova University , the class collaborated with the instructor, Ms. Deborah Boyer, to garner data from the “Information Wanted” ads in The Christian Recorder (covering periodical issues from December 26, 1863 to June 12, 1869). This project was quite impressive: we organized target information and placed data into an Excel spreadsheet. This grand Excel spreadsheet became my primary database: it has 700 columns (values) and 42 rows (valuables).

Research Methodology

  • Selecting Databases.To examine relationships between the number of advertisers to The Christian Recorder and the growth of black schools, I decided to use 3 databases for my project. They are: 1 ) the Excel spreadsheet containing data transcribed from “Information Wanted” Ads in The Christian Recorder; 2) List of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU);  and, 3) A Timeline for the Education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007.
  • Selecting Mapping Tools. I used Google Maps Engine Pro to create two maps: Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans from 1800 to 1864  and  Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans from 1865 to 1870.
  • Organizing Data. 
  • 1) Time Scope: the first map includes ads from December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865; the second map includes ads from April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869. As it is widely accepted, the end of the Civil War is marked by the date of April 9, 1865. On that day, Confederate General Robert.E. Lee surrendered his troops to Ulysses Grant at the Appomattox court house in Virginia. 
  • 2) Valuables Selection: Since I focused on the  locations of the advertisers, I only selected 10 valuables: Item_Number, Year, Date, Advertiser_ Full Name (I merged Advertiser’s first name, middle name, and last time into one column), Advertiser_Gender, Advertiser_Address, Advertiser_City, Advertiser_County, Advertiser_State, and Advertiser_Country. More importantly, I did not select the advertisers’ mailing addresses because sometimes they were different from the home addresses, and it would lead to misleading information when visualizing data.
  • 3): Paring Down Invalid Information: I first deleted all rows related to the same advertiser who placed ads several times. For example, Mary Dickerson placed ads to look for her 4 sons and 1 daughter (in the original Excel spreadsheet, it had 5 rows related to Mary Dickerson). However, it is redundant to map Mary Dickerson’s address 5 times. I then deleted any rows that did not specify advertisers’ states (except a few advertisers who lived in West Canada or Canada). For example, in Item_Number 72081, Fannie Robinson had no information about her address, city, state and country, so I deleted the entire row. To sum up, I whittled down data and had two separate new Excel Spreadsheets in good shape: “Wartime Advertisers” has 10 rows, 8 columns; “Postwar Advertisers” has 10 rows, 141 columns.
  • 4) Combining other Databases: I transcribed information from  List of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU); and A Timeline for the Education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007 to two separate Excel Spreadsheets: Black Schools established between 1800 and 1864, and Black Schools established between 1865 and 1870.


I envision that the advertisers’ geographic distribution might reflect the progress in literacy and positive self-perceptions within African American community during the late 19th century. To prove this hypothesis, I aimed to find out answers to the following questions: what are the demographics of the advertisers during the wartime and the postbellum period? What does the disparity of number of advertisers and schools indicate? Since The Christian Recorder was printed in Philadelphia, how did advertisers who lived outside of Pennsylvania hear about this periodical? Were there any Churches or facilities existent  in the African American community that help them contact The Christian Recorder?

The following are two maps that show African American men and women who placed “Information Wanted” advertisements in The Christian Recorder between December 1863 to June 1869; and the African American schools established between 1800 and 1870.

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1800 and 1864

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African American built from 1800 to 1864   Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1800 and 1864 Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1865 and 1870

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African American built from 1865 to 1870  Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1865 to 1870 Copy Right: Shasha He

As shown from the above two maps, I made two bold arguments.

Argument 1: The growing number of advertisers in the postbellum period (after April 9, 1865) reflects more African Americans had access to The Christian Recorder; More importantly, to request information about their missing  loved ones, the advertisers may have basic literacy skills like clarifying names, locations, and backgrounds through either writing or oral forms (told editors, priests, staff at The Christian Recorder, and so on).

Regarding the number of advertisers and schools, they both show trends on the upswing. Between December 1863 and February 1865, a span of 1.2 years, only 8 advertisers with clear-cut home addresses (at least include the information of state) appeared in the data set. In stark contrast, between April 1865 to June 1869, a span of 4.2 years, there are altogether 142 advertisers with determinable residence addresses. That is to say, the number of registered advertisers increased 17.6 times by the first half of 1869. As for the number of schools, between 1800 and 1864, a span of 64 years, only 15 schools with determinable information established for black Africans. After the end of the Civil War, schools for African Americans started to sprout. Between 1865 to 1870, a span of 5 years, 27 listed schools were established for African Americans.

With this in mind, I argue that the growing number of advertisers between 1865 and 1869 may suggest more African Americans grasped the basic literacy skills. During the antebellum period, the slave states strictly restricted back slaves’ education.By the end of the 1830’s most Southern states has passed laws banning teaching reading and writing to African Americans. Whatever education a black African received during the antebellum period was probably the result of occasional instruction by a benevolent slave master or other individual groups. The nearest resemblance to formal education did not begin until the first decades of the 18th century, when a handful of public-spirited churchmen and pioneer educators such as Anthony Benezet established small schools for black freemen in cities such as New York, Philadelphia. From the first map, I found that  from 1800 to 1864, the majority of schools for black Africans were in Pennsylvania. While as the second map showed, between 1865 and 1870, the most traditional slave states including South Carolina (6), North Carolina (5), Mississippi (3), Louisiana (2), Georgia (2), and Alabama (2) established schools for African Americans (the numbers stand for the number of schools) .

The Slaves States and Free States in 1861  Map taken from wiki

The Slaves States and Free States in 1861 Map taken from wiki

Under this circumstance, two possibilities might exist: with more African Americans receiving education, the media such as newspapers, periodicals, and newsletters began reaching out to the African American community. Moreover, when requesting information of their beloved relatives, the advertisers may at least 1) heard about the Christian Recorder; and 2) they were able to either write down or narrate information to the Christian Recorder. If these two possibilities hold truth, a positive correction between the number of advertisers and literacy rate of African Americans in the late 19th century would have supportive evidence. However, to further support my argument, I need to examine other contributing factors such as the total number of African American population in each state, the teaching qualities, and so forth.

Argument 2: The act of placing ads indicates advertisers actively identified and turned to sources of interpersonal support in and outside of the African American community.

The influx of advertisers after the Civil War can also suggest three aspects: 1) African Americans started to searched for sources of support; 2) advertisers consciously knew that they wanted to “reconstruct” their family and life by looking for their lost relatives. In other words, their self-perceptions of themselves and the postwar America were enhanced; and 3) more institutions/ groups/ individuals were willing to help African Americans. Noticeable examples are that many advertisers registered mailing addresses when placing the ads. Many mailing addresses were entirely different from their residence addresses, indicating that someone were willing to notify the advertisers the updated information about their lost relatives.

Regarding the geographical information, I found that during the wartime (December 1863-February 1865), the few advertisers lived in free states. The sole exception, Rachel Shepherd, lived in Portsmouth, Virginia. This place was under the control of Union States in 1862, however. From the second map, I saw a greater geographical diversity among the advertisers. Because the Christian Recorder was printed in Philadelphia, the majority of advertisers still lived with Northern states. However, I also saw advertisers writing from former Confederate States, including North Carolina (6), Louisiana (4), Georgia (3), Virginia (10), Tennessee (1), Florida (1), and Mississippi (1). Furthermore, there were advertisers writing from even California or Canada, far away from Philadelphia (the numbers after each state stand for the number of advertisers).

Map of Union States and Confederate States before and during the Civil War

Map of Union States and Confederate States before and during the Civil War

These findings lead to a series of new questions: why so many African Americans came to Pennsylvania? Similarly, why so many former slaves ended up in the Midwest while others migrated to California or even Canada? How did the people who lived far from Pennsylvania hear about  the Christian Recorder? Or, does the spread of A.M.E explain the popularity of The Christian Recorder? Unfortunately, the Information Wanted ads do not reveal such information. Therefore, further research should be done in order to provide in-depth answers to these questions.

Further Research 

Since Google Maps Engine Pro couldn’t help me the figure out all of the hidden messages in the “Information Wanted” Ads, I decided to combine other visualization tools.

As for further exploring the possible correlations between the increasing number of advertisers and the progress in literacy and positive self-perceptions within African American community, I think text mining is the another feasible solution. In this project, I used Wordle to do the text mining and analysis of the “Information Wanted” Ads.

  • Databased and Data Organization

The primary database is still the Excel spreadsheet containing data transcribed from “Information Wanted” Ads in The Christian Recorder (covering periodical issues from December 26, 1863 to June 12, 1869). As for the time scope, I did the same thing with the previous research: the first text mining includes ads from December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865; the second text mining includes ads from April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869. In this part of research, I focused on “text” instead of “geographics”. Therefore, the valuables that I selected were Advertiser Relationship to Searchee, Searchee Relationship to Advertiser, and Reason for Separation. I did not include “Notes” because they contain many names of either the advertisers or the searchees, which would be irrelevant to the text analysis.

  • Text Visualization and Analysis 

For the text mining related to the wartime ads (December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865), here is the text visualization:

Wordle: Wartime Text Mining for the Information Wanted Ads

For the text mining related to the postwar period ads (April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869), here is the text visualization:

Wordle: Text Mining and Analysis related to the postward ads from the Christian Recorder

During the wartime period, the primary concern behind a family disruption was “Military Service”, which is understandable. During the postwar period, words that dominated the “Information Wanted” Ads were “owner”, “owned”, “belonged”, and “sold”. The two text visualizations suggest that almost 5 years after the end of the Civil War, the advertisers still had negative self-perceptions: they kept unconsciously reminding themselves of their slavery past.


Through using Google Maps Engine Pro and Wordle, I attempted to explore possible positive correlation between the increasing number of advertisers (spread all over the United States) and the rising literacy rate and enhanced self-esteem within the African American community. Through these project, I realized that by using only single tool, such as mapping tool, is unlikely to accomplish a satisfactory historical project. Many questions left unsolved, yet new questions keep popping up. The optimal way is to resourcefully combing various digital tools such as digital storytelling, mapping, GIS, timeline, text mining and so on.

Reconstruction Amendments: Rebuilding America’s Free Black Community

The passage and ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, also known as the Reconstruction amendments were the first sutures designed to sew together the wounds left by the years of fighting on the battlefield and home-font during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. The amendments, by ending slavery, enfranchising and enterprising newly freed blacks, and establishing new and stronger federalism, respectively, left many to wonder what the next chapters of American federalism, economy, and freedom would bring. With Federal troops stationed throughout the South immediately following the war and later to enforce this new moral and legal code of equality, blacks, namely former slaves, began to claim a new lifestyle of citizenship in the land where they had previously been enslaved. For these individuals, the first step in creating a new life in freedom was the reconnection and re-cultivation of social networks destroyed by slavery and war.   Slaves were constantly moved away from federal troop advances or raids to discourage runaways.  This, compounded with the ever present break up of families by the sale of slaves (especially during the economic depression faced by the South during the latter portions of the war) spread these friend and familial networks across the country.

Some Social and familial networks were more easily repaired as the individuals were not separated over great distances. Many slaves became “contrabands of war “ as they ran away to refugee camps run by the Union Army and thus remained in nearby environs. Others were sold away and taken great distances still others joined and traveled with the Union Army. These networks that were torn asunder by conflict or other tragic circumstances required other means to restore communities that would help freed slaves in the post-war, reconstruction period. Factors like literacy, access to money, and larger communities all played into one’s ability to connect to greater networks of individuals in the hope of reconnecting with friends and loved ones. Many former slaves placed missing persons ads in newspapers read in black communities across the United States and Canada. One example of a newspaper that carried several hundred of these missing persons ads both during and after the war is the Christian Recorder, published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These ads, often placed by one or two individuals would give information based on the missing person or persons last known location, full name, known nicknames, their familial or friendship ties, how the person placing the ad could be reached, their address, and the location from where the ad was being published. This variety of information meant that any of a number of individuals could read or come across this information and communicate any part or segment to any of the parties listed in hopes of reestablishing a connection. It was also common to see ads posted by church groups or by other individuals on behalf of another person, who perhaps did not have the means or literacy to post the ad.

The 700 wanted ads from the Christian Recorder compiled during Villanova University’s Graduate Digital History Practicum offer innumerable research opportunities to historians interested in the Civil War, Reconstruction, Gender studies, African-American history, as well as other fields like Geography and Politics. For my project, I wanted to test the data to see if there was a significant connection between the ratification dates of the first two Reconstruction amendments: the Thirteenth and Fourteenth and a rise in the placement of ads from the states where the amendments had recently been ratified. More specifically, I looked at border and Southern or (formerly) Confederate states and the dates they ratified and adopted each amendment. The hypothesis being: if there was a marked uptick in the amount of ads submitted during this time period it could be deduced that free blacks, more specifically, individuals looking to rebuild social networks, and even more specifically, individuals posting ads in the Christian Recorder felt more comfortable doing so after the amendments were adopted by Southern and border states who otherwise would not assume these protections on their own at the state and local level. Through examining and data-basing 700 wanted ads placed in the Christian Recorder between 1863 and 1869 the following information was gathered:

Below are two timelines, created with the online tool dipity. The first timeline tracks every state’s ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was highly contested in the House of Representatives, was passed on January 31, 1865 by that body, certifying its passage and subsequently sending it to the states for ratification. The amendment made slavery illegal in the United States and was a political and military goal of both Radical Republicans and Abraham Lincoln. That is, both wanted to see the amendment passed before the imminent surrender of the South, who would rejoin the Union and the House of Representatives and veto any attempt at the passage of a freedom bill.

Thirteenth Amendment Timeline

The second timeline tracks the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment was a response to the almost immediate resubjugation of recently freed slaves in the South to Black Codes passed in many former-Confederate states. These laws sought to install a system of white supremacy and non-citizenship for blacks. Though Congress attempted to act through the passage of a Civil Rights Act in 1866, it quickly became clear that an amendment enfranchising blacks, granting full citizenship to freed slaves would be necessary. The amendment was adopted July 9, 1868 with little support from Southern states. Later Congress would stipulate that ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment would be required for congressional representatives from former-Confederate states to be readmitted to Congress. The timeline shows both border and Southern states and the time it took to ratify the amendment, even after adoption. One can infer the bitterness with which this amendment was accepted by the Southern states with full ratification taking fully four years.

*Both Timelines exclude extreme outliers like Mississippi or New Jersey who rejected and failed to re-certify the 13th and 14th Amendments, respectively

Fourteenth Amendment Timeline

After establishing a timeline for both amendments two maps were created using the Google map creation tool. The first map looks at ads placed during the timeline representation of the Thirteenth Amendment. More specifically, it looks at ads placed within this time period from individuals reporting their address within border and former-Confederate states. That information comprises layer one which had a total of 55 hits in the entire Christian Recorder wanted ads database from February 1865 to June 1866. Layer two of this data, illustrated by ‘yellow stars’, represents the ads where the month and year of ad placement were significant- within five or six months- to the time the state ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. For example: on February 3, 1866 an unknown male placed an ad looking for Henry Collins. This man listed his address as Princeton, New Jersey—a State that ratified the Thirteenth Amendment on January 23, 1866.   Allowing for some time for communication, or over seasons like winter, I found the total result of this database to be 18 significant hits of 55 or roughly 33 percent of all ads placed during this time coincide with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Similarly, the second map looks at ads placed during the second timeline for ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, July 1866 to June 1869, and excludes outliers like Texas and Mississippi who did not ratify until 1870. Strictly speaking, the timeframe that the amendment took to be ratified took much longer; therefore, layer one, which records all ads from the Christian Recorder from the aforementioned time period lists 84 ‘hits’ for ads placed from individuals listing their address in border or former-Confederate state—roughly 30 more than all ads placed for the Thirteenth Amendment. More significantly, however, is layer two which is, again, illustrated by ‘yellow stars’. This layer records fourteen individual ‘hits’ of ads placed at a date very near- five to six months- ratification date of the state listed by the advertiser. For Example on November 28, 1868 Alice Mitchell posted an ad for her mother, Polly Clark. Alice Mitchell listed her address in Glenville, Barbour County, Alabama—a state where the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 13, 1868. Again allowing for some margin of communication and seasonality I found the total result of the two layers for this database to be 14 significant ‘hits’ from a total of 84, or roughly 17 percent of all ads placed during these years to coincide with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Geographically, these ads are more spaced out than ‘layer two’ of the Thirteenth Amendment map and show coinciding trends in New Jersey, Washington D.C., Virginia, and the Deep South. Perhaps with more data this geographic information could be more insightful.

These numbers, 33 and 17 percent, certainly do not represent the type of ‘smoking gun’ for which historians and researchers aiming to publish books and peer-review articles would look. The overall sample size of 700 ads, though it took a team of graduate students half a semester to fully transcribe into a digestible document, is far too small a collection of ads, and other databases would have to be created from similar newspapers and publications from Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Although this project shows empirically that roughly 33 percent of ads posted around the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and 17 percent of ads posted around the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment appear significant to the original question and hypothesis this project was likely never going to fully draw a parallel between the thought processes of free blacks looking to rebuild communities in the former-Confederacy and border states and the importance or trust in the federal government to guarantee the rights and liberties which had been so viciously fought for over from 1861 to 1865. I hope this project will inspire other researchers, particularly those looking at contraband camps and the rebuilding of black communities after the war, to continue exploring newspaper wanted ads and the window to the past they offer.



For More Information:

National Trust for Historic Preservation: The Forgotten- The Contraband of America and the Road to Freedom

 National Park Service: Living Contraband- Former Slaves in the Nation’s Capital during the Civil War

The Christian Recorder

 Our Documents 13th Amendment

 Our Documents 14th Amendment

Our Documents 15th Amendment. History: Reconstruction

National Humanities Center: Emancipation, 1864-1865

List of States in Order of Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment

List of States in Order of Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

PBS: Slavery by another Name- Black Codes and Pig Laws

History, Art and Archives: The United States House of Representatives, “Historical Highlights: the Civil Rights Bill of 1866”

Textual Indicators in the The Christian Recorder Ads

Slavery and the Civil War took a massive toll on African American families, who were often separated and scattered with little means to reunite.  After Emancipation in 1862, many people tried to track down lost relatives by placing Information Wanted ads in African American newspapers such as the Christian RecorderOur Digital History class transcribed a collection of these ads from papers published Dec, 1863 to Jun, 1869 and created a database with this material.  The Information Wanted ads generally ran for one issue, unless the advertiser paid for additional printings in a series of papers.  The ads vary in detail and length, and I saw a set of three questions rise from the collection as I worked with the database: Who was placing the ads? Where were they from? What were they saying? By filtering the textual information in the gathered data set, I saw some trends emerge in the numbers that answer these questions and supply supporting evidence for the state of African American literacy, particularly in the North.  The language in the original ads and the ads themselves may also demonstrate a reaction to major events that unfolded during Reconstruction.


To present my analysis for my first two questions, I decided visualization tools would work best for demonstrating the data. I first uploaded the Excel spreadsheet to Google Fusion Tables and using the filters in this tool to sort the data, I was able to see some emerging trends. I attempted to generate some demographic charts in this tool without much success. To accomplish the visualizations, I uploaded the data to a different free tool, Online Chart Tool, which easily generated the graphs I required. For my third question regarding the language of the advertisements, I selected three sample sets of transcribed texts from the Information Wanted ads, gathered from Accessible Archives, to run further analysis, using Voyant Tools.  I learned the following:

Who was placing the ads and where were they from?

Advertiser Gender

As shown, in our data set only a slight majority of the people posting the ads was male. This relatively even proportion is surprising, given, as Eric Gardner states, “If we omitted the large group of soldier-subscribers and those remaining unidentified, we could posit that the average Recorder subscriber was a married black man in his early 40s living in the Northeast, with significant church ties and children, and likely in the working class even if he held property.”  However, in his analysis of who the subscribers to the Christian Recorder were [1], Gardner also acknowledges that, “Men are somewhat overrepresented, partly because of the difficulty of tracing women’s name changes that accompanied marriages and partly because of other forms of gender bias in nineteenth-century record-keeping…. The number of subscribers represented diverse kinds of readers (and reading) and cannot be assumed to represent the totality of readers, given what we know about reading aloud and other text-sharing practices of the era.”  Readers may not necessarily have been subscribers, thus the advertisers of these Information Wanted ads may not have been subscribers either.  However, these men and women took an active role in supporting the Recorder by selecting it as the publication resource for their advertisement. The Recorder was produced in Philadelphia and had a high subscription rate in the surrounding area. The relative gender balance of those placing Information Wanted ads may have some connection to the location from which most of the ads were requested.

advertisers by state

Almost a third of the searches in our data set came from Pennsylvania, and of the advertisements with addresses provided, 105 of them were located in Philadelphia. Over two-thirds of the advertisers were located in northern free states.  As in other cities in the North at this time, African American literacy rates were significantly higher than in rural areas or in southern states. Given the strong presence of Quakers in Southeastern PA and their well-established tradition of schooling based on the principle of educating all people regardless of color or gender, more African Americans, including women, in this region were likely have been literate for generations and possess some financial means to place an ad in the newspaper.  Gardner states, “Recorder subscribers and black reading public crossed class boundaries much more than previous scholars thought.” I suggest that this data shows that readers of the Recorder also frequently crossed assumed gender boundaries as well. To conclude, the majority of the advertisers were African American men and women located in free states, most of whom possessed a basic or higher level of education.

So what did the texts of these ads demonstrate about the advertisers?

Considering the vast changes to African American rights in the 1860’s, in this questions I specifically was thinking about how the frequency of ads placed and the textual language of the ads might have changed over span of the data set. I needed to explore the data beyond what the spreadsheet showed, so I elected to transcribe sample sets of the actual ads. Based on when they were printed, I selected three sets of 20 Information Wanted ads from the data our class gathered and copied and pasted the text from Accessible Archives into a Word document, where I pooled the ads into each corpus, early, middle, and late, for analysis.

The first group of ads represents early ad text from December 1863- July 1865. The second group of middle ads is gathered from January 1866 to March 1866.  It should be noted that the time span for this group is significantly shorter than the first group, as the frequency of ads placed had more than tripled.  The last group of 20 ads is from the end of the data set, covering February to June of 1869.  I looked at the frequency trends for certain key words across the three groups and created the word cloud representations featured below. For all three text groups I filtered out generic stop words, plus one additional omnipresent term, “information.” I also considered blocking the word whereabouts, which is predominant in all three groups, but the term did not occur in every ad in the data set. Additionally, it suggests an ongoing specific desire to know location in addition to state of health and well-being, so I included it in the textual analysis.

The total number of words in my sample groups did not differ much: the first group had a total of 1389, the second had a sum of 1404 words, and the last group has the fewest words, 1244. The key terms I chose to consider across all three groups were sold, left, and taken. I selected these terms based on the prevailing reasons for family separation (if provided in the ads) according to the entire database, as represented here:

Reason for Separation

The transcriptions for the earlier ads feature a much higher occurrence, 13 times, of the word left, in comparison with the other two groups of ads. The word sold appears 3 times and taken appears once in the first group of 20.  In thinking about the connotation of each term, left is more vague and hints a possible reluctance to divulge too much information regarding movement of current or former slaves, even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was not initially well received by many governing bodies. Slavery was still legal at the time these ads were printed, and the war was not officially over until April, 1865. Also, the prevalence of the terms years (12 times) also suggests that these separations in the early ads were not recent occurrences.

Text analysis cloud for 20 ads spanning from December 1863 to July 1865

Text analysis cloud for 20 ads spanning from December 1863 to July 1865

Full access to the tools and the corpus of the first 20 ads can be found here.

The middle 20 sample is drawn from ads printed 1866, which saw the greatest number of searches in the entire data set. Why might this be? 1865 and 1866 marked significant changes in law and social policy.  The 13th Amendment was enacted in January 1865, and over the course of that year, the number of searches in the Christian Recorder jumped from 13 to 111.  The federal government was also in the process of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which became law in early April. In 1866, the number of ads more than doubled from 1865’s total, peaking 250 individual searches. During the transcription process, I noticed that the March 1866 issues of the Recorder featured more than twice as many Information Wanted ads compared to the other issues used in the other two data sets. This spike in advertisements coincides with the overturning of President Andrew Johnson’s veto of the civil rights bill by two-thirds majority in Congress.

Years bar

In the sample set from 1866, shown below, the word taken appears once. Sold appears 5 times, which is a slight increase. However, Left is used only twice and does not appear on the word cloud.  Another term used in reference to slavery, belonged is used 4 times.  These occurrences suggest that the advertisers in 1866 were becoming more open about specific details in regards to the people they were searching for.  In this middle set of texts, confidence and hope for recovery and reunion seemed to be increasing.

mid 20

Text analysis cloud for 20 ads placed during 1866, the peak year for searches.

Full access to the tools and the corpus of the middle 20 ads can be found here:

The last 20 ads marks significant increases in key terms: sold appears 10 times, taken appears 4 times, and left is used twice -in conjunction with military service.  In the last group, requests for ministers to read the ad for their congregations increases, with the word ministers appearing 9 times and congregations occurring 5 times.  Another prominent word of note in this cloud, address, saw a steady rise in use from just twice in the early group, to 7 times in the middle group, and 13 times in the late group of ads.  This may indicate that African Americans were better able to settle at an established address as the decade wore on, suggesting that the quality of life and social standings were on the rise for African Americans in the North during Reconstruction.

Text analysis of the last 20 ads from our data set, spanning February to June of 1869.

Text analysis of the last 20 ads from our data set, spanning February to June of 1869.

Full access to the tools and the corpus of the last 20 ads can be found here.

To conclude, the Information Wanted ads in the Christian Recorder supply valuable indicators of the progress of African American life during the decade of emancipation. The texts of these ads form an unusual collection of individually authored voices reaching out across a broad geographic region, and they resonate with personal experiences of the abolition of slavery and the beginning of Reconstruction.  The Christian Recorder was not the only African American publication to print Information Wanted ads, so this can be viewed as a representative example of a larger movement toward literacy and autonomy for blacks in the United States.

 Cited Resources:

[1] Eric Gardner. “Remembered (Black) Readers: Subscribers to the Christian Recorder, 1864–1865.” American Literary History 23, no. 2 (2011): 229-259. (accessed July 31, 2014).




What’s in a Map? A Location by any Other Name…Will Not Show up on Your Map

The History of The Christian Recorder

The Christian Recorder is the oldest black periodical in America, dating to before the Civil War.  Originally named the Christian Herald, the publication started in Philadelphia in 1848.  It was published weekly, with a yearly subscription fee of one dollar and fifty cents.


Cover page from The Christian Recorder. Accessed through Accessible Archives.

In 1852, the Christian Herald changed its name to The Christian Recorder (see image at right).  The first issue was printed and distributed July 1, 1852.  Reverend M. M. Clark, one of the first college graduates in the African Methodist Church, was The Christian Recorder’s first editor.  He wanted the paper’s focus to be religion, morality, science, and literature.  Although much of The Christian Recorder was devoted to religious news, it also spent time dealing with secular issues, including education, voting rights, and equality – particularly issues involving slavery, classism, and racism.[1]  Religious Intelligence, Domestic News, Foreign News, Obituaries, Marriages, and Notices and Advertisements comprised the four-page weekly.[2]

As a strong opponent against slavery, The Christian Recorder repeatedly addressed biblical and moral issues involving slavery, and worked to encourage and foster a fledgling black consciousness.  After the Civil War, the paper encouraged its readers to be mindful of whites who still wanted to harm the newly freed slaves.  The Christian Recorder addressed the issues of separated family members with the publication of their “Information Wanted” ads.  These ads tried to provide information that could assist in reuniting family members.[3]

Historian Augustus H. Able, III synthesized the mission of The Christian Recorder best when he expressed that,

Outrages from the South were reported in purely factual terms: burnings of churches and parsonages, midnight visitations. Of course sermons were reproduced, but there was excellent reportage from correspondents all over the South and West. In sum, the virtue of the Recorder lies not in its religious role but in the picture it provides of the Negro situation throughout the country; from the tepid friendliness of at least some whites in the West, whether Cheyenne or Santa Fe, to the cry to freed Negroes, ‘Don’t come to Mississippi.’ Indeed this warning brings to mind one of the greatest features of the Recorder, the Information Wanted page that continued for years, week after week; inquiries about broken families, the enforced separations of parents, children, brothers, sisters, all relationships, deriving from the peculiar situation of the Cotton Kingdom. These inquiries provide small glimpses of thousands of human tragedies and constitute a most impressive indictment of the Old South.[4]

Today, The Christian Recorder continues serving the African Methodist Episcopal Church in communities around the world.

 “Information Wanted” Ads

This summer, for eight weeks, the Villanova Digital History class worked on documenting “Information Wanted” ads from The Christian Recorder.  This was an incredibly impressive project, spanning roughly six years of transcribed ads.  The information garnered from these ads was then placed into an Excel spreadsheet.  The initial Excel document compiled by the class is daunting, to say the least.  From that almost 700-cell spreadsheet, I had a decision to make on how to narrow my query.

Early in the process I decided I would like to use a mapping tool, I just didn’t know what information I specifically wanted to map.  Eventually – since I currently live in Philadelphia, and am originally from Pennsylvania – I decided on mapping the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia addresses from the entire spreadsheet.

I did, however, impose the caveat that I would only look at the contact addresses, rather than the advertiser or searchee addresses.  I decided to look at contact addresses instead of advertiser addresses because I think the contact address to be incredibly important, maybe even more so than the advertiser addresses.  The contact person was the liaison between those searching for the information and those responding to the information.  That was a HUGE responsibility.  It was incumbent of the contact person to deliver any and all information; he or she was the difference between family members reuniting or staying lost to one another, perhaps forever.

 Research & Findings


Pittsburgh in the 19th century. Accessed from “A Short History of Coal Hill.”

When I looked at the data from the spreadsheet after having removed any extraneous information that wasn’t related to Pennsylvania, I discovered that there were very few specific street addresses given for locations outside of Philadelphia.  In contrast, a majority of the contact information provided for those living in Philadelphia included a building number and street address.

This poses an interesting question: why were these people and places without street addresses?  It’s possible that the advertiser didn’t know an address for the contact person; but what is more probable is that these contact persons simply didn’t have addresses.  In 1860, Philadelphia had a population of 565,529, while Pittsburgh’s population at the same time was 49,221.  Philadelphia was a far more prosperous and populace city in the mid nineteenth century than much of the rest of Pennsylvania.  It’s a possibility that many of the other cities referred to in the data weren’t as developed as Philadelphia (see image above left), which would make it easier for people in those cities to know who Mr. Granderson Singleton was and where he lived (a contact person for one Pittsburgh ad, for example).

Through analysis of the data, I realized that there were quite a few ads that relied on The Christian Recorder as the contact address – 619 Pine Street in Philadelphia.  Most of the ads relying on The Christian Recorder occur in the early years of our data set.  There are also a handful of ads that list “bookstore” as the contact address.  This bookstore has the same address as The Christian Recorder; The Christian Recorder was located in the A. M. E. Book Concern (see below image).


Accessed from Accessible Archives.

These advertisers could have relied on the paper because of the novelty of the “Information Wanted” ads.  Something like what The Christian Recorder was offering hadn’t been done before for African Americans.  Perhaps, for these folks,  the safest place to address returned information was The Christian Recorder.  With the close of the Civil War, the frequency and volume with which the “Information Wanted” ads appeared for Pennsylvania, (and Philadelphia specifically), increased exponentially.  Despite the turmoil and blatant racism still permeating society immediately following the Civil War, African Americans were feeling more comfortable with the idea of openly searching for displaced family members.

Digital Tool and Methodology

From the outset of working with this data, I knew I wanted to employ a mapping technique.  But finding the right one proved a bit tricky at the start.  It was trial and error with different mapping tools until I finally settled with Google Maps Engine Lite.  I experimented with many different tools including MapBox, GeoCommons, CartoDB, and Crowdmap before finally using Google Maps.  Since I’m not the most technologically savvy, I found some of the mapping tools to be too advanced for me.

However, one of the biggest issues I ran into, particularly with the digital tools that relied on geo-referencing, was simply that I didn’t have any geo-reference points.  Similarly, I needed a tool that would work with the fact that many of my points only had a city, with no street address.  Google Maps Engine Lite proved to be the perfect tool for dealing with this, as it easily (for the most part) mapped the cities, regardless of a lack of accompanying building number.  Once the points were mapped, I did have to go in and clean up some data, as a few of the addresses initially pinned in the Schuylkill River.  Additionally, I had to drop the Attleborough, Pennsylvania entry because Google Maps could only place it in Rhode Island rather than Pennsylvania.

map ads pa

Pennsylvania only mapped addresses

map ads phila

Philadelphia only mapped addresses

map ads both

Pennsylvania and Philadelphia mapped addresses

Google Maps also proved beneficial for easily mapping my two layers of data (see images above).  Using two different colored pins, I was able to map the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia locations on the same map.  Zooming in on the map – particularly in Philadelphia – allows for a closer examination of the addresses, which pop up in a window when the cursor hovers over the pins.

One potentially adverse effect of Google Maps Engine Lite is that it is a free version, and as such, it will only allow 100 pins to be placed in a single layer.  For my particular area of research this wasn’t a problem.  Advertisers often placed ads that contained queries regarding multiple people.  I made the decision to exclude multiple entries for two reasons: firstly, these entries would create a far too cluttered map; but secondly, and most logically, there was no need to repeat contact addresses attached to advertisers looking for numerous people.  One address entry, since it didn’t change, sufficed.  The capped number of pins Google Maps Engine Lite allows would present a problem for someone looking to map more than just Pennsylvania from the spreadsheet.  With that in mind however, Google Maps Engine Lite was an extremely user-friendly digital mapping tool that made mapping the contact addresses of the “Information Wanted” ads very easy and fairly painless.


My project in particular could be expanded through mapping all of the spreadsheet’s contact addresses.  Visually, I think it would be beneficial to see the scattered (or condensed) geography of those receiving ads.  Once that information has been gathered and mapped, it would be interesting to see if there were any correlations to these places.  Perhaps the contact addresses are all only in the biggest cities of certain states; maybe the contact addresses are only in those states less hostile to the conclusion of the Civil War;  maybe even there is a relation between the cities listed for the contact addresses and cities that had strong abolition tendencies prior to the Civil War.  It might also be exciting to look into whether or not the contact addresses were in cities with a Christian Recorder outpost, or a strong A. M. E. Church contingent.

The data provided from the transcriptions of The Christian Recorder “Information Wanted” ads is a wealth of information.  These ads can provide researchers with varying and numerous opportunities to engage with an array of digital tools.  With the use of these tools, many stories can be pieced together for these families, and much research and analysis can be accomplished in regards to life immediately succeeding the Civil War.



[2] “The Christian Recorder.” Accessible Archives Inc. 2014. Accessed July 28, 2014.


[4] “The Christian Recorder.”

Maps, Visuals, and a Timeline: The Influence that Editors and Proximity to A.M.E. Churches had on Advertisers

The Official Website of the African Methodist Episcopal Church reports that though starting in Philadelphia, the A.M.E. church quickly spread into other parts of the country. By the 1830s, there were congregations major cities in the northeast and midwest, such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Detroit. There were also churches in a few slave states, namely Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Louisiana. In the early 1850s, the church spread west to cities in California and also into Canada, and then moved further south into Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Texas. Then, after the Civil War, the churches spread to other places in the south in order to support the newly freed people.

When thinking about how the A.M.E. churches worked to support the African American community, I began to wonder if the spread of the churches had an impact on the “Information Wanted Ads”. Moreover, I wondered if a mapping tool would help me map the locations from where the ads were sent. I predicted that I would see a similar trend of ads being sent from the northeast from older and more established churches, and as time passed, I would see ads from the west, and then from the south. I predicted that I would find that people who were members of, or were in close proximity to an A.M.E. church sent out more ads than those who did not live as close to the church.

This project will show that the mapping tool generally confirmed my thoughts. However, the tool did not offer strong, concrete evidence, so I had to use a visualization tool and a timeline to support the following case. Part I of this three-part project is an analysis of the locations of the advertisers from the maps that I generated with google Maps Engine. Part II focuses on the two cluster dendrograms that I created on, which highlights the months that the ads were placed, as well as the cities from where they were placed. Part III is a timeline that I created on Timeline JS. I used articles from the Christian Recorder to describe what the editors were doing because I was looking to see if they were more active during certain months of the year. I focused on two editors named Elisha Weaver and James Lynch because more advertisers placed ads during their tenure (1866-1867). One of the reasons for a high percentage of ads placed, as this project will show, is that both editors traveled extensively; they also aggressively sought subscribers, and insisted that subscribers pay for their subscriptions. These three parts will illustrate the conditions that might have influenced the advertisers, and will conclude with an explanation about the editors.

Part I: Mapping the Locations of the Advertisers:

I used google Maps Engine to map the locations of the advertisers, and I had to determine a way to organize the data because I could not input the entire spreadsheet. I combined 1863-1864 because there were only 14 rows; I had to divide 1866 into three sections because Maps Engine will input 100 rows only, and there were 249 items for 1866; I had to adjust 1867 and 1868 by eliminating duplicate addresses; and 1869 had only 72 items, so I did not need to adjust.   For comparison purposes, below is a screen shot of the maps. All Maps Advertiser Addresses

When I generated the first map for 1863-1864, I was surprised to not see Philadelphia on the map. From the excel sheet, I noticed that 619 Pine Street, which is in Philadelphia, was often listed; however, since it was not reflected on the google map, I revisited the excel sheet and noted the following: for my input, I used “Advertiser City”, and as per the data, the advertiser’s city was not always the same as the Advertiser’s address. For example, Advertiser Address for item 59799 is “No. 619 Pine Street,” and the Advertiser city is listed as Baltimore. Regardless, 619 Pine Street is an important address. Articles in the Christian Recorder reveal that it is the address of editor’s office. I saw this first in a January 19, 1861 article that first explains that the Christian Recorder is published every Saturday on behalf of the A.M.E. church by Rev. Elisha Weaver, and then it lists his address as No. 619, Pine Street, Philadelphia. Also, another address for the editors after 1864 is Box 2975, Philadelphia, PA.  In any event, please see the screenshot of the maps and note the trend that aligns to what I expected. I expected the advertiser’s cities to start in the northeast, and then spread west, and then south, which is what the screenshot generally reveals.

Below are the google Maps Engine links of the cities where advertisers were. I have attached the editor’s name with the map because Part III of this project will link the editors to the advertisers’ activity:

Elisha Weaver: 1861-18641863-1864 Advertiser Addresses





The first noticeable change from 1863-1864 to 1865 is that 1865 had more advertisements come from the Midwest and the South Atlantic and West South Central South than in 1863-1864.

There is no editor listed for 1865. According to the Official site of the Christian Recorder, John M. Brown was elected to become editor in 1865, but declined in order to focus his missionary responsibilities during the Civil War.  This map illustrates how there are more advertisers in generally, and that they are from the Midwest and West Central South.

1865 Advertiser Addresses





Then below, in 1866, a few ads come from the Pacific and Mountain West, whereas there were none from here in 1865.

James Lynch: 1866  Advertiser Addressess 1866 A  Jan 27-May 5


January 27-May 5




Advertiser Addresses 1866 B  May 19-Aug 18


May 19-August 18




Advertiser Addresses 1866 C Aug 25-Dec 22


August 25-

December 22


However, there were less advertisement from the West South Central South, and more from the Northeast, East North Central Midwest, and South Atlantic South in 1867 than 1866.

James Lynch/Elisha Weaver: 1867

Advertiser Addresses 1867






Benjamin Tanner Tucker: 1868


Advertiser Addresses 1868







Advertiser Addresses 1869



In 1868, there is one advertiser from Pacific West, which is different from 1867, which did not have any.  Moreover, in 1869, there are less advertisements in general, and though there is one from the Pacific West, they are mostly from the Northeast.

These maps basically reveal the trend that I was expecting, but do not offer strong evidence for my case. The churches started spreading in the 1850s, so by 1863, many churches were established, and it is harder to determine if the spread of the churches is the reason why advertisers sent ads.

The significant insight from these maps comes from the trends in 1866. Since I had to divide the data and input it into three maps, I put the data, and therefore the maps in chronological order; 1866 A is from January 27 to May 5; B is from May 19th to August 18th; and C is from August 25 to December 22. Dividing 1866 by months prompted me to think about the dates that people sent ads, instead of just focusing on the locations and proximity to A.M.E. churches. I began to wonder if the time of the year made an impact on where the advertisements came from. I did not have a strong prediction about the time of year that a higher percentage of advertisements were sent, except for the general, “maybe the warmer months because it’s easier to travel and transport snail mail?” Which brings me to Part II:

Part II: A Visual to Analyze the Months that the Advertisements Were Sent

I created two visuals in The first one’s hierarchy includes the following: year, date, last name:
Cluster Dendrogram for Year, Date, Last Name

From this first visual, I could not determine whether the month of the year had any impact on the advertisers, so I created a second one which includes the year, date, last name, and city:

Cluster Dendrogram for Advertiser City

I saw that 1866 and 1867 had the most activity, and so I paid close attention to those years, which I will explain in Part III. Moreover, some months have more activity than others. For example, in 1866, March had thirteen advertisers, and four out of the thirteen were out of Philadelphia, and no other cities were duplicates. Also, May has fourteen advertisers and three out of the fourteen were from Philadelphia, and there are no other duplicates. July has twelve; and August has seven. September has nine, and two out of the thirteen cities were Philadelphia, and two were from New Bedford, and there are no other duplicates. Basically, this data visualization showed me that the spring and summer months had the most advertisers, March with thirteen, May with fourteen, and July with twelve. Unfortunately, this information did not tell me what happened during those months to impact the advertisers, so I had to use another tool, which brings me to Part III.

Part III: A Timeline for The Editors of the Christian Recorder from 1866-1867

I wondered if the Christian Recorder would reveal what was happening during those spring and summer months. As I searched the archives, I focused on any information regarding what the editors were doing because I wanted to see if they had an impact on where the advertisements were coming from. The Christian Recorder had four editors between 1863 and 1869: Elisha Weaver, 1861-1864; A.L. Stanford, 1861; James Lynch, 1866-1867; Elisha Weaver, 1867-1868; and Benjamin Tucker Tanner, 1868-1884. However, since 1866-1868 had the most activity, I narrowed my research to focus on the editors during that time, who were Rev. Elisha Weaver and Rev. James Lynch. I noted information about their travels, what their concerns were, and who they were meeting. I then created a Timeline on Timeline JS.

Christian Recorder Editors Timeline


Though I expected to be able to make a connection between the editor’s activity and the number of ads placed within a certain month, the timeline shows no significant trend for the spring and summer months. Most months have one noteworthy event, and no months stand out with editors having more activity than in other months. Thus, the high number of individuals placing ads during 1866 could also have something to do with the uncertain future of the Freedman’s Bureau, and individuals wanted to initiate looking for their loved ones instead of waiting on the government. Or, it could be because the editors Elisha Weaver and James Lynch were working hard to promote the paper during those years.


Though I initially thought that proximity to the church would have been a major factor in the advertisers’ placement of ads, the maps did not indicate anything substantial, and I had to use a visualization tool, and a timeline to make sense of what I was researching. Nevertheless, the research path that I took offered some insight into the “behind the scenes” activity of the editors. From the Christian Recorder articles, I learned that they worked tirelessly within the A.M.E. structure, traveling, attending conferences, attracting subscribers, and asking people to pay their bills, in an effort to keep encouraging the African American community. If I were to again try to figure out the correlation between the advertisers’ proximity to an A.M.E. church, I think I would use the “Mailing Address” in my data for Maps Engine. I did not do it this time because I thought that the mailing address and the advertiser city could be different, and I was specifically looking for the location of the advertiser, which to me, was the city. It would be interesting, however, to compare the “Advertiser City” maps and “Mailing Address” maps to see if the “Mailing Address” offered any more insight into the relationship between the church buildings and the advertisers. Also, it would be interesting to map the addresses of the historic A.M.E. churches in the cities that came up the most. Then I could make the connection between the church address as well as the “Advertiser Address”. Nevertheless, this project did confirm my earliest thoughts that the advertisement would start in the northeast and spread west and south, just as the A.M.E. churches spread. This could possibly be because the churches in the northeast were older and more established, or had larger congregations, or were able to network with more people.



Mapping and Gendering the Information Wanted Advertisers in The Christian Recorder

Image 1

Map of wartime advertisers to The Christian Recorder.

Image 2

Map of postwar advertisers to The Christian Recorder.

What Are These Maps?

The two maps displayed above reflect African American men and women who took out Information Wanted advertisements in The Christian Recorder seeking missing loved ones between December 1863 and June 1869. These maps were created using data from Professor Deborah Boyer’s Topics in Digital History Summer 2014 class at Villanova University and were generated using Google Maps Engine Lite. By demonstrating the geographic diversity and gender breakdown of the advertisers, we can think about both mobility and gender roles of African Americans in the Civil War era.

The data we gathered about the Information Wanted advertisements is divided into two maps. The first map reflects advertisements taken out during the Civil War. This includes ads from December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865. The February 25 edition includes the last ads to appear before April 9, 1865, the day Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia. While the war was not completely over, this date is largely accepted as the end of the Civil War for all intents and purposes. The second map reflects postwar advertisements, ranging from April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869.

The maps reflect a variety of information on the advertisers. First, the locations of the advertisers are differentiated between listed and mailing address. Many advertisers listed their place of residence at the time they took out the advertisement. But others listed a mailing address instead, sometimes even including a different person or organization to address any responses to the ad. Since we cannot be certain that the mailing address is actually the place of residence for the advertiser, I have separated the two based on the available information. If both a place of residence and a mailing address were given, the map reflects the place of residence. On each map, the pins represent listed addresses, while the dots reflect mailing addresses.

The second, and perhaps more important set of information illustrated on the maps is the breakdown of the advertisers by gender. On each map, different marker colors reflect the different genders or gendered groups of advertisers. Red reflects female advertisers, blue for male, and purple (a blend of blue and red) for couples who took out advertisements together. In addition, pink reflects a group of females, light blue a group of males, green a mixed group of men and women (not couples), and yellow reflects advertisers whose gender could not be determined. The color markers were chosen to allow viewers to quickly see the diversity of advertisers by gender, but at the same time the general parity between men and women.

Combined, the two maps reflect 219 unique Information Wanted advertisements that appeared in The Christian Recorder during this time period. This number does not include every advertisement which appeared in the newspaper over this span of time. Our data set reflects only the ads transcribed on the Accessible Archives database. As a result, any advertisements they did not transcribe were not included. I further edited the data set according to additional criteria. First, the data does not reflect the multiple appearances of ads over series of issues. While many of these ads would have been printed more than once, the data set only counts them one time, and the date reflects their earliest appearance in the Accessible Archives transcriptions. Second, the data set only reflects ads for which the advertiser included a discernible location, either a place of residence or a mailing address. Some included no address at all; others left a vague reference to a street address or city. For example, on June 22, 1867, Lucy Lee took out an ad from “809 Orchard Street.” But with no city, county, or state listed, we cannot determine where this is. On August 29, 1869, Julia Thomas took out an advertisement from “Windsor, Ca.” Without more information, we cannot know if this was Windsor, California, or Windsor, Canada. Advertisements with indeterminate locations such as these are not included in the map data.

What Can We Learn from the Maps?

The visualization of advertiser data in map form allows viewers to both notice interesting trends and develop larger research questions. One set of observations could revolve around the comparisons between the two maps. Between the end of 1863 and the beginning of 1865, a span of more than a year, only 12 unique ads with determinable advertiser locations appeared in the data set. This number is significantly lower than the number of ads which appeared in any of the years after the war, including the second half of 1865 alone. This suggests the disruptive nature of the Civil War on the nation, especially on the African American population. As the war displaced slave populations and offered opportunities for black mobility through enlistment or escaping to Union lines, perhaps African American men and women were too preoccupied with their own security to worry about the fates of lost loved ones. The influx of advertisers after the war corresponds with this. Having survived the war and secured their freedom, African American men and women would have been in a more stable position from which to try to reconstruct displaced families.

In addition to number, the maps also spark observations and questions about the locations of the advertisers. During the war years, the few men and women who took out advertisements in The Christian Recorder were located in Union states. The sole exception, Rachel Shepherd, was living in Portsmouth, Virginia, an area which had been in Union control since 1862. But after the war we can see much more geographic diversity among the advertisers. To be sure, a majority still came from Northern states. But we also see many more advertisers writing from former Confederate states, as well as from Canada and from as far away as California.

It makes sense that more African Americans in the South tried to track down families after the war. The end of the war brought with it an opportunity to seize freedom and stability. Considering that occupying Union forces and the Freedmen’s Bureau offered at least some level of protection, it is surprising not that African Americans in the South took out ads, but that more did not do so.   

But the maps also spark questions about African American mobility in the Civil War era. For example, there is a cluster of advertisers in the greater Philadelphia area. A partial explanation for this is the fact that The Christian Recorder was printed in Philadelphia. But what drew so many African Americans to Pennsylvania? Similarly, what drew so many African Americans to more established areas in the Midwest, while others sought opportunities in less settled areas such as Kansas or California? We could also ask questions about the nature and length of their residence in the North. For African Americans writing from Northern states, and especially from Canada, how did they end up where they were? Were they former slaves who left the South after the war? Were they runways who sought freedom in the North before or during the war? Unfortunately, the Information Wanted ads do not reveal many details about the advertisers’ backgrounds. But looking at their geographic range on a map should spark questions for further research.

Finally, by classifying the advertisers by gender, we can notice trends about the men and women taking out ads that could lead to questions about gender roles and familial expectations among African Americans after the Civil War. According to the data on the two maps, the split between male and female advertisers was nearly even – 104 women or groups of women, 97 men or groups of men, and the rest either mixed groups or uncertain. This equality leads to questions about what motivated men and women to try to reconstruct families. After years of separation from relatives or children, were men and women seeking to establish familial ties and create communities of support? If they were fathers looking for wives and children, were they influenced by white conceptions of patriarchal families to take the lead in reconstructing a household?

The large number of female advertisers should also raise questions. How did the legacy of slavery affect gender roles in African American homes? As men were sold away or ran off to join the Union Army, did more women assume the role of head of the household? Historians such as Hannah Rosen have looked at how African American women sought active roles in their political and social communities after the Civil War as they demanded the rights of American citizens. But what does it mean that they also took an active role in public forums to track down lost loved ones, especially children? Perhaps this suggests a dual role of black women’s activity inside and outside of the home. Their efforts to reconstruct families calls to mind their roles as mothers and heads of domestic spaces. But at the same time, the fact that they were using public forums such as newspapers points to their activity in the public sphere.


Mapping the African American men and women who took out Information Wanted ads in The Christian Recorder can be valuable both in the information it demonstrates and the questions it provokes. Rather than reading through hundreds of lines of data, users can easily spot colored markings on a map and recognize trends among the advertisers. With relative ease we can draw conclusions about the increase in advertisements after the war, the geographic diversity of the advertisers, and the parity between men and women taking out advertisements. But from these conclusions come interesting questions for research about mobility as well as familial expectations and gender norms among African Americans in the Civil War era.

Relationships in The Christian Recorder’s “Information Wanted” Advertisements

While reviewing the data compiled from the “Information Wanted” advertisements in The Christian Recorder, I was struck by the variety of people that were searching for lost family members and friends: mothers searching for sons, brothers searching for sisters, nieces searching for uncles, and grandparents searching for grandchildren, among others. For my project, I wanted to examine the distribution of relationships between advertisers placing these “Information Wanted” ads and the people for whom they were searching, or the “searchees.” According to the 1860 census, there were 3,950,528 slaves at the outbreak of the Civil War, 13% of the total U.S. population at that time. This staggering number does not even reflect the number of fugitive slaves, freed men and women, and free African Americans living in the North. Though this demographic made up such a sizable portion of the population in the 19th-century, they were hardly given an equal voice in the historical record. Learning more about the types of people placing the “Information Wanted” ads, as well as their relationships with the family members or friends for whom they were searching, provides a greater understanding of the impact that the events surrounding the Civil War had on the lives of African Americans.


For this investigation, I created 2 bar graphs using the free software Tableau Public. The first graph measures general relationships, such as all parents looking for their children, or spouses looking for spouses. The second graph is more specific, measuring relationships using terms such as mothers searching for their daughters, or wives looking for their husbands. I chose bar graphs because I felt that they provided an easy to read and accurate summary of the distribution of relationships appearing in the ads. The general graph quickly gives an overview of the relationship distribution and accounts for cases in which detailed information is not fully available, such as when an unspecified parent was searching for their son or daughter, and vice versa. The specific graph provides a more detailed view of the effect that slavery, the Civil War, and emancipation had on the personal lives of African Americans, by measuring the frequency and types of relationships affected by separation.

To compile these graphs, I consulted all of the data in the spreadsheet our Digital History class created from the “Information Wanted” ads printed in The Christian Recorder between December 1863 and June 1869. I focused on two columns: advertiser relationship to searchee, and searchee relationship to advertiser, and combined them into a single column on 2 new spreadsheets: one for general relationships, and one for more specific relationships. I used a sample size of 587 – all of the advertisers that had enough information listed for me to determine their relationship with the searchee – in order to have the most accurate results. I disregarded any ads in which the relationship between the advertiser and searchee and the searchee and advertiser were both left blank, making it impossible to ascertain their connection. I then uploaded the 2 new spreadsheets that I created to Tableau Public, where I was able to choose the type of visualization to which to import the data, as well as make some customizations.

The single column I created had 6 different categories for the general graph (parent searching for child, child searching for parent, sibling searching for sibling, extended family member searching for other extended family, spouse searching for spouse, and other) and 49 for the more specific graph, which covered every type of relationship mentioned (mother searching for daughter, mother searching for son, mother searching for child, father searching for daughter, father searching for son, unspecified parent searching for daughter, unspecified parent searching for son, daughter searching for father, daughter searching for mother, son searching for father, son searching for mother, brother searching for sister, brother searching for brother, half-brother searching for half-brother, sister searching for brother, sister searching for sister, wife searching for husband, husband searching for wife, grandfather searching for grandson, grandmother searching for grandson, grandparent searching for grandson, aunt searching for nephew, aunt searching for niece, nephew searching for aunt, nephew searching for uncle, cousin searching for cousin, mother-in-law searching for son-in-law, daughter-in-law searching for mother-in-law, brother-in-law searching for brother-in-law, brother-in-law searching for sister-in-law, sister-in-law searching for brother-in-law, unspecified relative searching for unspecified relative, unspecified relative searching for husband’s unspecified relative, friend searching for friend, former husband searching for former wife, and one church secretary searching for former church trustee).

I showed all of these unique relationships in the specific graph, but lumped outlier relationships, such as that of the church secretary searching for the church trustee, into “other” on the more general graph. Any familial relationship further removed than that of parents searching for children, children searching for parents, and siblings searching for siblings was included in the “extended family member searching for other extended family” category on the general graph. In my study, I focused on the total number of relationships appearing in the “Information Wanted” ads, not the unique advertisers. Thus, if the same advertiser ran their ad multiple times, or was searching for several people in an ad, each ad and individual relationship was recorded separately in the data set. 

Analysis and Conclusions

By applying a digital tool to a primary source, I was able to determine the distribution of relationships between advertisers and searchees in the “Information Wanted” ads far more quickly. Previously I would have had to read through each individual ad, make a tally mark next to the appropriate relationship, total up the amounts in each category, and then manually construct the graphs. Having a data set organized in a spreadsheet made it much easier to find the information for which I was searching, compile it into 2 new spreadsheets, and then upload it to software that performed the calculations and constructed the bar graphs. In this way I was able to find the answer to my research question in a matter of days rather than weeks; I was able to analyze the data, form my conclusions, and share them with the public in less time than it would have taken me merely to read each individual ad. Doing so in no way creates as complete a picture as the images painted by the original “Information Wanted” ads, but enables information to be processed and passed along quickly. To fully appreciate the colorful stories of the advertisers and searchees, I would recommend reading these ads when one has the time.

Distributions of Relationships in The Christian Recorder’s “Information Wanted” Advertisements: General Relationships

Distributions of Relationships in The Christian Recorder’s “Information Wanted” Advertisements: General Relationships

Distributions of Relationships in The Christian Recorder’s “Information Wanted” Advertisements: Specific Relationships

Distributions of Relationships in The Christian Recorder’s “Information Wanted” Advertisements: Specific Relationships

I had initially assumed that most of the ads would have been placed by parents searching for their children; as parents are traditionally charged with the task of supervising their families, it would stand to reason that when given the opportunity they would be the ones taking the initiative to gather everyone back together. However, after constructing these bar graphs, I discovered that the majority of “Information Wanted” ads placed in The Christian Recorder from December 1863 to June 1869 were placed by siblings searching for siblings – more specifically, brothers searching for brothers.

This would allow one to draw the conclusion that young African American males were the most likely to be displaced by the events surrounding the Civil War: being bought or sold in the slave trade, serving in the military (both voluntarily and through impressment), or taking advantage of the uncertain times to escape to freedom. That most ads were placed by brothers looking for brothers also correlates with the demographics of the average subscriber to The Christian Recorder; in his study, Eric Gardner determined that in addition to a large number of soldier-subscribers that would fall into a similar demographic, the average subscriber that was able to be identified was “a married black man in his early 40s living in the Northeast, with significant church ties and children, and likely in the working class even if he held property” (246). In this regard, the largest demographic of subscribers would be likely the same group that posted the most advertisements.