“Information wanted” was the first phrase in hundreds of personal ads placed by African Americans after the Civil War. These ads would ask for information about a loved one that had been separated from the family due to the brutality of slavery.
Most of these ads requested information that could lead to a reunion. My denomination has digitalized many of these ads and made them accessible to the public.
I did not realize the importance of this project until a few years ago. By some strange twist of fate, I have become my family’s genealogist. My cousin Otto had been our official family historian and record keeper. He kept paper records.
After his death, I received some of his records and saved them electronically in my Ancestry.com account. The word got out that I had the family records electronically stored on my computer. Monthly, I get calls from distant relatives asking me if I have any record of their loved one.
If I can help my relatives find a missing document or family member’s name, they seem so appreciative. However, when my records come up short, there is often a palpable sense of disappointment.
One relative asked over and over for me to recheck my records for her loved one’s name. I explained my limitations, but that did not seem to assuage her disappointment.
The most difficult request I received was from a woman whose husband was adopted. Her husband and I were DNA matches. We were fourth generation cousins.
Statistically, it was nearly impossible for us to tie her husband into our family tree.
I then began to describe my family to the caller. We have an abundance of preachers in the family. We place a high value on education and high moral living. Our family reunions look more like church revivals than social gatherings.
The caller got very excited. She began to describe her husband’s mannerisms and faith. While he might have been separated from the family at birth, he demonstrated our core values and beliefs.
At the end of our conversation, we came to the conclusion that we did not need a list of names to know that we were family.
Perhaps that is what we are really seeking.
We search these records hoping to discover where we belong. That sense of belonging provides us with a wealth of blessings. It defines our past and sets the course for our future.
In a real sense, it provides us with roots and wings.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.