Reconnect Formerly Enslaved Ancestors with this Heart Wrenching Resource

Newspaper ad project helps genealogists and other researchers found family lost during slavery

I’ve been working on an African-American ancestry case for a good while now, attempting to discover a friend’s ancestor’s whereabouts before Emancipation. Unsurprisingly, this has been a tough one. But I’m chipping away, one research project at a time!

Because of that project, I invariably disappear down the rabbit hole when I discover a new-to-me resource about African-American ancestry and finding enslaved ancestors. 

And I really got lost in Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery.

Homepage of the website Last Seen: Finding Family after slavery, a website that aims to compile newspaper ads where separated formerly enslaved people tried to find one another after Emancipation

In their own words, Last Seen “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.”1

When searching Last Seen, you’ll find heartstring-yanking newspaper ads where people who have found themselves in a whole new, better, world attempt to find the one thing that would make that new life complete: their loved ones.

Tips for Searching Last Seen

You can search Last Seen in several ways.  There’s the good old fashioned keyword search. But you can also search by map, by location, and by newspaper. (Click “Advanced Search” to access those options.)

The good news is that Last Seen appears to be entirely transcribed, so your searches should yield results.

However, keep these few tips in mind:

  1. Spelling won’t be uniformSpelling simply wasn’t standardized in the United States at the time of emancipation. Add to the fact that the formerly enslaved were generally barred by law from learning to read, and you can get some varied spelling. For example, I noticed the town of “Dawsonville” Georgia spelled as “Dorsenville.” This also gives a clue as to the accent or speech of the person taking out the ad. 
  2. Names change – First name and surnames might have changed after slavery. People married, or simply chose a new identity for themselves. It is not unheard of for an ancestor you might know as “Teresa” to have gone by “Lucy” when the person seeking her knew her. Further, the formerly enslaved didn’t always take the surname of their last enslavers. Don’t rely on names alone when searching this collection!
  3. Use the map – So spelling isn’t standardized and names change. How the heck do you find your people? Use the map! Last Seen’s interactive map plots out both the locations of those searching for their family and the locations of where the lost family member is likely to have been. I recommend looking at every single ad at both the place where your ancestors last lived (and/or were enslaved) and the places where you find them after Emancipation. 
  4. Don’t ignore cluster research – Nearly 4 million people were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.2) There are approximately 4500 ads on Last Seen. Odds are you won’t find mention of your exact ancestor. But you may find mention of their friends, family, associates and neighbors. (AKA your ancestors’ FAN Club, a principle first coined by genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills.3 You may find an ad seeking a census neighbor, a member of the same church, or the witness to your ancestor’s marriage, among many other possible FANs. Recently emancipated people often created their own communities, and a newspaper ad mentioning a FAN Club member could be the vital clue to locating your ancestor in your own genealogy research. 

My Own Finding on Last Seen

While perusing the interactive map on Last Seen I saw a very familiar surname–”Pascoe.” Pascoe (or Pasco) is an old surname in the northeastern part of Cherokee County, Georgia, where I’m from. This area is part of Georgia’s gold belt, and the Pascoe Mine was one of the more profitable gold mines in this area.4 

The direct transcription of the ad reads:

INFORMATION WANTED of a woman by the name of Jennie, who was sold by John Hockenhull, of Dorsenville, Dorsen Co . Georgia, to a man by the name of Jack Nickols, a slave-trader. He sold her next to Doctor Hill of Mobile, Ala , a little while before the war. Any information respecting her will be thankfully received by her son who belonged to the same John Hockenhull.

ALEXANDER PASCO,

No 24 Tyler Street, Patterson.

Alabama and Georgia Ministers will please favor me by inquiring for my poor old Mother.5

There’s a lot here.. First and foremost, a mother was sold away from her child. John Hockenhull may be one of my own ancestor’s FAN Club members, but let’s just say I’m not one of his fan club members.

Once we get beyond the initial bad feeling that this scenario brings up, there’s also quite a lot of genealogical information here. We get Alexander’s current residence, the name of his mother, the name of their mutual enslaver, the name of his mother’s next enslaver, and even the name of a slave trader–a group of people who have often managed to slink around the shadows of history. 

I happen to know from my own research that John Hockenhull was also a physician.6 If I were looking for Jennie Pasco’s whereabouts, this might provide a clue that she had healing skills, which is why she was sold to another doctor. (There are grimmer interpretations of a doctor selling a woman to another doctor, as well.) 

Research on the enslaver, an “associate” (though nonconsensually) of Jennie’s, yields important clues as to her life.

Again, this newspaper article is full of tantalizing clues. But there is also what is not written. Why did Alexander Pasco go to Philadelphia? How did he get there? Did other FAN Club members from Dawsonville, Georgia go with him? What was he doing for work there? Where did he go to church? Why did he take the surname Pasco/e? Did Jennie also choose the name Pasco/e or were they separated before they needed to choose surnames?

Which brings me to…

How You Can Contribute to Last Seen

Every ad on last seen has a link to “Share Information about this Ad.” For this one, I clicked it and shared that John Hockenhull was a physician, which might be useful information for a researcher someday. I also shared that the Hockenhulls and Pascoes lived and/or had business in not just Dawson, but in Cherokee and Forsyth Counties. Jennie and Alexander aren’t my research subjects (yet…), but maybe that information I just happened to already know might help Alexander’s descendants find their missing foremother. And it took about 30 seconds. 

The reason I bring this up is because African-American ancestry is genealogy on HARD mode. The little throw-away detail you might know, may help a researcher who has had to scratch and claw every tiny fragment of information they can find about their enslaved ancestor. So if you have any information to contribute, please do!

Did you check out Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery? Did you find anything intriguing (or heartbreaking)? Please let me know in the comments!

  1. “About the Project,” Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery (https://informationwanted.org/about-the-project : accessed 12 Apr 2024). []
  2. “African Americans,” NCPedia (​​https://www.ncpedia.org/african-americans/emancipation : accessed 12 Apr 2024. []
  3. Cooke, Lisa, “The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls,” Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems (https://lisalouisecooke.com/2016/10/29/genealogy-fan-club/ : accessed 12 Apr 2024.) []
  4.  Stone, R. C. (comp.), The Gold Mines, Scenery and Climate of Georgia and the Carolinas, (New York: National Bank Note Company, Type Department, 1878), p. 13; Digital Library of Georgia (https://dlg.usg.edu/record/dlg_zlgb_gb0505 : accessed 12 Apr 2024.) []
  5. “Information Wanted,” The Christian Recorder (Philadelphia, Pa.), 8 Jan 1874; Alexander Pasco looking for his mother Jennie,” Last Seen (https://informationwanted.org/items/show/426 : accessed 12 Apr 2024.) []
  6. 1860 U.S. Census, Dawson County, Georgia, population schedule, Dawsonville, p. 9 (stamped), dwelling 360, family 324, line 37, entry for John Hockenhull; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/10989339:7667 : accessed 12 Apr 2024). []
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