About the Last Seen Project

 

Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery aims to identify, digitize, transcribe, and publish ads placed in newspapers across the United States (and beyond) by formerly enslaved people searching for family members and loved ones after emancipation. These newspaper ads began appearing in the 1830s (our earliest ad appeared in The Liberator in 1832) and greatly increased in frequency in the years immediately following emancipation (1865) and continued well into the 20th century.  (The collection includes an ad that appeared in The Richmond Planet in 1922.) These ads not only document the extensive separation of Black families through the domestic slave trade, but also attest to the persistent efforts thousands of people made to reunite with those from whom they had been separated. In the ads, mothers search for children separated through sale, daughters and sons seek parents, men and women inquire about partners and spouses, and siblings search for one another—they include names, describe events, and recall last seen locations. All this information, crucial to genealogists and scholars alike, is published in this open-access collection.

Launched in 2017, Last Seen initially aimed to publish 1,000 ads from a handful of newspapers published in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, to help document the transition from slavery to freedom. The project now includes over 3,500 ads spanning eight decades from 275 newspapers. Our goal is to publish 5,000 ads.

In addition to publishing these ads, making them available to genealogists and researchers alike, Last Seen, includes lesson plans and resources for teachers to use in their classrooms (at all grade levels) to help teach the hard history of slavery.