Missing Person Ads in Old Newspapers Describe Missing Ancestors

If you are tracking down a missing person and want others to help your search, you need to describe the missing person well. That’s what they did in this old runaway slave ad published in 1828.

$25 Reward: runaway slave ad, North Carolina Sentinel newspaper article 9 August 1828

North Carolina Sentinel (New Bern, North Carolina), 9 August 1828, page 2

Gilbo was a “Negro man” from the area “New Bern” who is described as being “between 25 and 30 years of age, light complexion, about five feet high and has an impediment in his speech when closely interrogated.”

So, not very tall.

The runaway slave ad said that he was wearing “an Osnaburghs shirt and trowsers, and cloth round Jacket.”

What does that look like?

Perhaps similar to this 19th century woodcut, in which a slave is wearing the exact same type of shirt, round coat and pants described in the 1828 missing slave advertisement:

19th century woodcut illustration of a slave

19th century woodcut illustration of a slave. Image credit: Eco.Soul.Intellectual.

According to Florence Montgomery (Textiles in America), osnaburg was made in blue, white, brown and white, with stripes, checks or solid colors.

This was known as “Negro cloth” and was coarse, unbleached or brown-colored cotton similar to today’s osnaburg. See the discussion on the Hart Cottage Quilts site: http://ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/rr5.htm

The missing slave advertisement said that Gilbo might be near the William Barrows plantation, on the road to Pembroke, since his wife was a slave on that plantation.

These small missing person ads can give a lot of descriptive information about our ancestors. Keep an eye out for these old advertisements when researching your family history in a newspaper archive!

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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