Monday, March 11, 2019

Searching for the Searchers

If you can't find the family you are searching for, perhaps you can join the other people searching for the family you are searching for. That, of course, has been the operative theory behind those pre-Internet queries printed in genealogical society newsletters of the 1900s, and, more recently, the burgeoning online genealogy forums and Facebook groups. But even before that, people have put their collective muscle together through networks to help them find their missing relatives and friends.

Similar to what the Irish did in seeking their missing immigrant relatives through the Boston Pilot newspaper's column "Missing Friends" from 1831 through 1921—now a searchable database at as well as published in a multi-volume set—former slaves sought to locate their missing relatives through letters published in southern newspapers. And, like the Boston College project to preserve the "Missing Friends" columns, one project launched by the graduate students of the history department at Villanova University is working to do the same with the wide variety of newspaper ads placed by former slaves in search of their family members.

Called "Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery," the searchable website enables genealogists and other researchers to see for themselves the pleas for help in reconnecting family groups torn apart by slavery. I first learned about this data collection through a lecture presented by genealogist Tony Burroughs at the 2018 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Since I knew I would be launching this research project about the unnamed former slave associated with my mother's McClellan family, I thought this could possibly be a useful resource for my quest. Even if it didn't resolve my research problem—it couldn't, at the time, as I didn't even know the man's name—the collection, which is browsable, was an excellent tutorial on the plight of such families, post-civil war.

If nothing else, I hoped it would lead me to any information on just what became of the rest of King Stockton's family. For one thing, his namesake father had never shown up in any records I could find, other than as a mention in King Stockton's biography. Then, even though we know his mother, Hester McClellan, had been sent from Glynn County, Georgia, to Wellborn, Florida, there was still the question about what happened to her following the civil war. And in the bigger picture, surely there were siblings of King Stockton; where did they end up after the war?

With that, it's time to launch out into the general resources available online for those seeking their ancestors among the emancipated slaves of the 1870s and beyond.


  1. I hope you can find some fellow researchers.

    1. Oh, I already have made helpful connections with current researchers in this case, Miss Merry. I want to add to that by looking for people from that bygone era who were also in search of their relatives. I'll mention a few examples later this week.


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