The African American families in the post-slavery, Reconstruction years
The “Lost Friends Ad’ in a New Orleans newspaper in 1883 by a lady described with two names — Eliza Jane Elam and Eliza Owens — showed the dedication of former slaves who sought their loved ones some 20 years after the end of slavery.
It was also a dangerous, Reconstruction Period, as former enslavers were conversely placing ads in newspapers for their so-called “runaway slaves.” The end of slavery meant that the free labor and horrific labor period ended for persons who considered slaves their property.
Despite the danger of having former enslavers finding them or loved ones, nearly 1,000 ads were placed primarily in African American-owned newspapers across the United States in search of “lost” persons who were separated from them during and after slavery. Thanks to a free website sponsored by Villanova University, African American and Afro Caribbean families are still locating their “lost” ancestors because of the detail found in the ads that include the enslaver names, plantation locations and who slaves were sold to.
Also, a “must see” is the stage production that depicts the enactments of hundreds of “Lost Friends” ads that were generously posted in mostly African American newspapers for little to no costs to those seeking loved ones. There is also a social media presence on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
The desperate hunt for mothers, fathers, children and other relatives, also yielded positive results as explained in the second half of the newspaper article found below.
My favorite reunion story on the site is from the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Mr. Editor — I wish to inquire
for my relatives — my mother, sis-
ters and brothers. My mother’s
name was Annie Straan; she be-
longed to Billie Straan. We were
first brought from Butt’s county,
Georgia, and from there to Ala-
bama; from there to Mississippi,
and from there to East Texas, Jas-
per County. Our owner, Billie
Straan, got in debt in Alabama,
and run away with us to Texas, be-
cause his property was to be levied
on. The sheriff came to Texas for
us, and took my mother and five
children back, but Martha and
Maria remained out here with our
old owner, Billie Straan. The
sheriff was Billie Straan’s brother,
Sam Straan. My brothers are
named Columbus and Richard;
sisters are Hannah, Betsy, Matilda,
Amanda and Martha Maria. Sis-
ter Hannah is the oldest and
Amanda next. Hannah was left
in Alabama. When last heard
from they were all still in Alabama.
Sister Martha Maria is dead. I
heard indirectly from them a few
years ago, but nothing definite
enough to give satisfaction. Sam
Straan, my owner’s brother, that
carried my mother and five chil-
dren back to Alabama, I heard,
got shipwrecked while on his way
back to Texas after Martha Maria
and myself. I am alone here in
Texas, with no relative except two
of my deceased sister’s children.
Aunt Mary is dead; also old Billie
Straan. My name was formerly
Amanda Straan, but is now Amanda
Whitfield. I wish to know if any
are yet living in Alabama, Louis-
iana or Georgia, for I am very
anxious to hear from some of my
people. This is the second letter I
have written, but have never had
an answer. Aunt Mary Straan’s
two daughters, Caroline and Har-
riett, are still living and anxious
to hear from any of our people. Aunt
Mary Straan is a fellow servant of
my mother, Annie Straan. Ad-
dress in care of the M. E. Church,
Amanda Whitfield, Columbus,
Your assignment: Go to the free website and search for loved ones based on their recommendations. Also, teachers are provided with lots of material on how to teach and research family histories among post-Civil War slaves.
Be sure to read more about this special genealogy resource in the upcoming, October 2021 e-book produced by Good Genes Genealogy Services.