The Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America

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Last Seen: Newspaper Ads Documenting the Long Search for Families Separated by the Slave Trade

February 21, 2023 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm

Free Cross-Promoted Lecture at the Jefferson Market Library:

Register for this event here.

This will be an in-person lecture held at:

Jefferson Market Library
425 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10011

In the years after emancipation (1865), formerly enslaved Americans took out newspaper ads by the thousands, looking for family members and other loved ones separated during the domestic slave trade. Each ad tells the story of a family formed in slavery and torn apart by sale. Since 2017, Judith Giesberg, Professor of History at Villanova University, has directed Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, a project with a team of scholars working to identify, digitize, transcribe, and publish these ads from Black newspapers across America.

The ads began appearing in the 1830s, proliferated after emancipation, and continued well into the 20th century. While documenting separation of Black families through the domestic slave trade, they also attest to the persistent efforts thousands of people made to reunite with loved ones. Parents, siblings and children searched for each other, and men and women looked for partners and spouses, providing names, describing events, and recalling last seen locations. All this information, crucial to genealogists and scholars alike, is published in an open-access form on the Last Seen website.

The team initially aimed to publish 1,000 postbellum ads from a few newspapers, to help document the transition from slavery to freedom. The project now includes over 4,500 ads, spanning eight decades, from 275 newspapers. Its goal is to publish 5,000 ads, making them freely available to the descendants of enslaved people. Last Seen also offers lesson plans and other classroom resources for teachers (at all grade levels) to help teach the hard history of slavery.

Presented in the first floor Willa Cather Room.

Judith Giesberg is Robert M. Birmingham Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History at Villanova University. Her books include Civil War Sisterhood: The United States Sanitary Commission and Women’s Politics in Transition (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000);“Army at Home:” Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Keystone State in Crisis: Pennsylvania in the Civil War (Pennsylvania Historical Association, 2013); Emilie Davis’s Civil War:  The Diaries of a Free Black Woman in Philadelphia, 1863-1865 (State College: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014); and Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of Modern Morality (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).


February 21, 2023
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm