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Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery
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Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  332 ratings  ·  65 reviews
After the Civil War, African Americans placed poignant "information wanted" advertisements in newspapers, searching for missing family members. Inspired by the power of these ads, Heather Andrea Williams uses slave narratives, letters, interviews, public records, and diaries to guide readers back to devastating moments of family separation during slavery when people were s ...more
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published June 1st 2012 by University of North Carolina Press
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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Start your review of Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery
This book is a valuable documentation of the emotional sufferings of the African American people. As an historical recording of the past it is important. It puts down in writing what has been passed down from generation to generation verbally. Black slave families were torn apart. Their separation, their attempts to find each other again and documentation of those rare instances when reunification was achieved, all is recorded in detailed specifics. Individual by individual. Both the research an ...more
Aug 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a great and worthy contribution made by Heather Williams. She absolutely explodes the myth of uncaring, unfeeling, unemotional and detached African-Americans coming out of slavery. Inspired by "information wanted" ads that the former enslaved placed in newspapers and sent to church bulletins to help them reconnect with family members lost during slavery, Ms. Williams examines the emotional impact of these separations.  Her research centers around these notices and the depth of that research ...more
Really brilliant and terrifically moving. The audio narrator is particularly warm and engaging.
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race, trauma-violence
This is a heartbreaking work on the impact of family separation during slavery. For anyone concerned about the current practice of family separation in detention centers, this is a timely and necessary read, as it illuminates the long-term social and emotional costs of such cruelty.
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I shed a few tears the other day watching an interview with the author of this book
I just finished reading it, and while I didn't cry, I was moved again and again by the stories of loss and longing. I am a family historian, and I am sure that my interest began as a child in part because of a feeling of my history being missing, especially after seeing old family photos in the home of my best friend. Since that time I not only research my own family's history, but I research for many friends, fa
Priscilla Herrington
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Williams has done extensive research in newspaper advertisements, diaries and letters to show the effects of slavery on African-American families. While the bulk of her primary sources date from the immediate post-Civil War period, she demonstrates that even earlier, family members avidly sought news of spouses, children, parents, other relatives, even friends, who had been sold away. Even though they might never see each other again, they were concerned for their missing relatives, begging for ...more
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Should be required reading as part of any U.S. History class.
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book focuses on one of the most inhuman and heart wrenching aspects of American slavery - the destruction of families through sale, the separation of husbands from wives, mothers from children, brothers and sisters from one another, often never to be seen again. It's an aspect of slavery that almost every book on the period touches on, but to read an entire study devoted to the topic makes for painful reading.

Williams breaks her study into three, the first section focusing on the separation
Suzanne Moore
These letters and ads placed in post Civil War newspapers and church bulletins show how loyalty and love can last a lifetime. I can only imagine how hopeless it must have felt to not remember or know enough facts needed to trace family members after years of separation. Mothers looking for children,taken from them when they were very young, live for the possibility that somehow they would be reunited one day.

I learned that slaves were often considered as dispensable property and were thought of
I enjoyed this book and learned quite a bit about the lives of slaves and the impact of having loved ones being ripped from each other. The aftermath of the Civil War also brought about a search for these loved ones and the difficulties once these people were reunited. At times I did become a bit bored and wished for more, not sure what I would have liked but my interest waned and it took me forever to finish it.

I also question the letters that were presented in this book. Letters that owners wo
Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listening-to
When the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, thousands were separated from families. The search to find family was especially difficult for former slaves. Masters frequently sold off children, a parent etc. and only the slave trader's name was known as attempts were made to track family members down. Williams does amazing research through church bulletins, journals, letters etc. in sharing stories of families separated and sometimes reunited. It was an unusual glimpse into a world I had n ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Of all the books Ive read on Black History, this one upset me the most. Reading about families being torn apart by other humans, particularly mothers and children, brought me to tears more than once.
The complicated stories, the often impossible reunifications, and the ways these things still affect generations today is a beginning to understanding the work that has to be done to end racism. It’s a very difficult read, but an extremely important one. Recommend it? No. You can’t recommend a book
Andrew Pierce
Jul 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I had the pleasure of having Dr. Williams for an undergraduate seminar at UNC. She is not only brilliant, but she is an excellent and caring teacher, who pushed her students to excel. I had the pleasure of reading a manuscript of this book before it was published, and I finally got around to reading the whole thing. It is impeccably written, emotionally touching, and well worth your time.
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm trying to do the work by reading more about black history, and reading more books by black authors. This book tells the stories of enslaved people's experiences of being sold and torn away from their families, and efforts made to reunite after they were freed in the years after the Civil War.

This is a worthy read if you want to learn more about this aspect of history.
Compelling writing and meticulous research on a powerful and deeply moving subject. There are stories from this book that are permanently seared into my mind. If more young people had access to history books like this instead of dry textbooks, fewer of them would think they didn't like the subject. ...more
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A little dry and repetitive at times but interesting. It is frustrating that there is so little information out there but Williams does a good job of extrapolating themes with limited evidence.
Carolyn Porter
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An enlightening and important book that analyzes the years-long search for family by former slaves after the Civil War.
Porter Broyles
Very good book that talks about how slavery broke up families/relationships and how they attempted to reunite after the war.
Audra Costello
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a dense but fascinating read. It has more of a scholarly style so it took me longer to finish than other books. There was a lot to think about.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it liked it
A bit repetitive in her text, but a really interesting subject. Would have been interesting to see more examples in depth, rather than the few in glance.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
A heartbreaking yet fascinating part of social history that is often over looked, this was phenomenally written and easy to follow.

(4.5/5 stars)
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Growing up as a white person in the South, I really thought I understood the evil that was American slavery of African people. In reading this book, I realize that I was missing a lot. Reading the accounts of enslaved people as they recalled separations from parents, children, spouses, and friends gave me a much deeper understanding of what I thought I knew. I don't know which was worse for me to read, the accounts of the mothers screaming as they tried to follow their sold children, or the diar ...more
Angela Gibson
I thought that I understood the evil of slavery. Nothing brought it into focus as clearly as Help Me to Find My People. One of the US justification's for slavery is that it had existed in Rome and Egypt. Any person who ever attempts to rationalize that slavery was good for the slaves involved should be forced to read this book in one sitting.

My interest in this book was two fold. I thought it would give me a peek into methods for genealogy for African Americans and it was recommended through my
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
The letters and advertisements that were placed in newspapers in the aftermath of the Civil War are powerfully moving and heartbreaking. It is sad to think of the large numbers of freed African Americans who never located their family members. This is a great topic and is well-researched, but I found the author's opinions to be a bit repetitive. She made the same points over and over. Mostly I wanted to read more of the bulletins placed by the former slaves and less about the author's interpreta ...more
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
What an incredibly moving book. 'Help Me to Find My People' examines the horrors of American slavery through the specific topic of the forced separation of families. The book is rife with vivid primary sources and testimonies of former slaves who had been torn asunder from their loved ones. The later chapters focus on post-war reunion efforts, specifically through newspaper advertisements seeking information regarding long-lost relations. There's also some interesting analysis of how white maste ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent study from UNC Chapel Hill's Assistant Professor of History, about the effects of slavery on the division of families and attempts by former slaves to reunite after freedom: after flight to Canada during slavery, after emancipation during the war, and after the Civil War ended. Her conclusion are backed up by research documented in the extensive endnotes, organized by chapters. She even discovered a few instances of attempts to reunify or seek information about lost family members duri ...more
Jul 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly thoughtful exploration of slavery and the torments it brought to its victims. Williams explains how slaves could have their families torn asunder in the most heart-breaking terms. She follows the adverts they placed in local papers pleading for news of their parents, spouses, siblings and children. The breakdown of the South towards the end of the Civil War meant that many slaves were sold and resold - and those connections could not be re-established after emancipation.
Williams w
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about members of enslaved families separated most often through the sale at the auction block. Heartbreaking stories of husbands separated from wives, young children separated from parents and siblings--never to see or hear anything about each other again. Dr. Williams, formerly at UNC Chapel Hill, uses primary sources, including slave narratives and newspaper advertisements to document the stories of family separations and ultim ...more
Julie Hulten
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
An absolute "5" for subject matter and in-depth "reporting". I had often envisioned the torment of these kinds of separations, Williams has done painstaking research and it reveals the heartbreak and the hard-heartedness of separating families for financial consideration. I thought that Williams sometimes over-explained, the situations really spoke for themselves. I also found her commentary repetitious. An important work. ...more
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