Genealogy Tip: Our Ancestors’ ‘Missing Person’ Newspaper Ads

Introduction: In this article, Mary Harrell-Sesniak writes about a source of family history information found in old newspapers that is often overlooked by genealogists: ads for missing persons. Mary is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background.

When individuals crossed oceans or removed (moved away) to other locations, they often lost contact with family and friends. Sometimes, when the people left behind wanted to find the missing person, they would publish “Information Wanted” advertisements in the newspaper. These ads were printed out of love or friendship for the missing person – and at other times there was a particular reason, such as tracking someone down due to their inheritance.

Whatever the original reason for their publication, these Information Wanted newspaper advertisements are a wonderful way to learn more about your ancestors. In these ads we find family history information often not found elsewhere, such as:

  • Citizenship and Place of Birth
  • Date and Ship of Arrival
  • Inheritance Information
  • Military Service
  • Names of Relatives
  • Personal Descriptions

Here are some examples from 18th century newspapers found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Hotzen (1790)

In this ad, we learn some valuable information that could connect a descendant of Mr. Hotzen to their ancestor. He was a Hessian during the American Revolutionary War who was captured by the Americans, after which he entered into their service and was garrisoned either in New York or Boston.

A missing person ad, Maryland Journal newspaper advertisement 24 August 1790
Maryland Journal (Baltimore, Maryland), 24 August 1790, page 3

Daniel Richardet (1791)

Daniel Richardet’s brother knew that he had purchased land in 1781 or 1782 in the United States and wished to make contact with him.

A missing person ad, Gazette of the United States newspaper advertisement 26 January 1791
Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 26 January 1791, page 4

John and Thomas Gracie (1792)

Thomas Gracie, who lived in Big Spring, Pennsylvania, ran an ad hoping to reach his brother John, who was described as having “a little halt in his walk, a Cabinet Maker by trade, lately from Galaway in Scotland.”

A missing person ad, Carlisle Gazette newspaper advertisement 25 July 1792
Carlisle Gazette (Carlisle, Pennsylvania), 25 July 1792, page 4

Stephen Smith (1792)

Stephen Smith was a native of Ireland and arrived prior to the American Revolution. This ad requested him to apply to John and Richard Kay of Halifax to hear “something to his advantage.”

A missing person ad, North-Carolina Journal newspaper advertisement 5 September 1792
North-Carolina Journal (Halifax, North Carolina), 5 September 1792, page 3

Pierre-Marie-Anne-Marc-Francois Labreteche (1794)

This ad provides extraordinary details.

It not only tells us when and where Pierre-Marie-Anne-Marc-Francois Labreteche was born in France, but also reports on what ship and day he came to the United States. His family, who ran the ad, wished to receive a certificate of his uninterrupted residence “among a free People, the ally of the French Republic.” The ad explains that “This will preserve his name from appearing in the list of the Emigrants, save his fortune and that of his father and sisters.” There was also the matter of partitioning the estate of his deceased mother.

A missing person ad, General Advertiser newspaper advertisement 22 October 1794
General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 October 1794, page 1

Merie Rieux (1794)

This ad about French citizen Merie Rieux reports where he was born, and that he was connected to the island of St. Domingo.

A missing person ad, General Advertiser newspaper advertisement 22 October 1794
General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 October 1794, page 1

Jean Duchalard & Jermond Genard (1795)

In this ad we learn that Jean Duchalard and Jermond Genard came to the U.S. together about the year 1790, that Genard was 17 at that time, and that Duchalard was “believed… [to have] drowned since his arrival in America.”

A missing person ad, Aurora General Advertiser newspaper advertisement 22 January 1795
Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 January 1795, page 1

If you have an elusive ancestor, be sure to see if an Information Wanted advertisement was ever placed in the newspapers – and don’t forget, it wouldn’t have to be in the location where you think they lived.

Other Articles on Newspaper Advertising Queries

If you are interested in similar articles regarding extraordinary finds from newspaper advertising queries, please follow these links:

7 thoughts on “Genealogy Tip: Our Ancestors’ ‘Missing Person’ Newspaper Ads

  1. How can I be 54% Scandinavian when I can’t find a great grandfather or grandmother from any Scandinavian country? The family names I have checked for immigrant lists are Freeland, Oldham, Palmer, Summers, Tuttle, and Brewer. Everyone with these names are British Isle immigrants, and it has been suggested that it must have been the Vikings. Now I’m old, but not that old. There must be an ancestors more recently than the invaders.

    Any and all help and suggestions are welcome.

    1. Julia,

      That’s a great question, and not one I can help you with here. I do want to say that you aren’t alone in being surprised by your results. Try to network with some of the DNA groups on social media for help.


  2. The seeking-family/missing-persons ads are indeed a goldmine.

    A few years ago, I found such an ad, placed in a New York newspaper by a woman in Colorado, seeking the whereabouts of her sister and two of her brothers. The woman? Katherine McCarty, the mother of Billy the Kid. That clipping gave me the names of three of her siblings and may eventually unlock her family line back in Ireland, not to mention the identities of present-day descendants of that family.

    I wrote it up and it was featured in Wild West Magazine along with an article on subsequent research I undertook that they ran on their website, using that newspaper clipping as my starting point. I found it in’s newspaper archives!

    1. Wayne,

      Thank you for sharing these comments and your discovery of this famous character’s siblings.


  3. Mary,
    This is indeed a source that is overlooked. I have been searching for information on the ancestors of my 2GGF who came from Germany in the 1880s. Through an ad titled ‘Would Like Tidings of Lost Ones” in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1895, I was able to identify a brother of my 2GGF and expand my knowledge of the family.

    The information in the article also gave me a new starting point to look for additional information. While my research hasn’t completely come to fruition, sources such as this have created a deep crack in one of my brick walls.

    Thank you for the information.

  4. Clay,

    You’re welcome. Thank you for sharing how you were able to identify a family member using digitized newspapers. It’s always nice to hear how the blogs have helped family historians.


  5. For Julia, with 54% Scandinavian. With this high % your ancestor are either parents or grandparents. Is it possible that you are adopted and didn’t know it? Or of the above not one of your biological relative?
    This happens more times than we want to know. If none of these 6 people are still alive, have other close family members see if they have the same DNA. Also try another testing company to see what they obtain.
    The names you gave are definitely English oriented. And Vikings were wayyy back. Not unless your ancestorvi/s came from Scotland/Ireland. Mine comes from Scotland and it is 12%. Good luck.

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