Finding Roots after Slavery: The Legacy of The Christian Recorder

In May 2017 on a visit to the 201st Session of the Philadelphia Annual Conference, I visited the archives of The Christian Recorder that are housed at Mother Bethel AME Church. They are based on the papers donated by Bishop Jabez P. Campbell, 2nd editor of The Christian Recorder and a former pastor of Mother Bethel. Mrs. Margaret Jerrido serves as the archives consultant and archivist for Mother Bethel AME Church. Now retired, she was the Director of the Urban Archives in the Paley Library at Temple University for 17 years.

While most of the newspapers are housed off-site in a climate controlled area, I was able to feel one of the issues from 1854 that is kept for display. In addition to The Christian Recorder, the archives also include papers from Mother Bethel dating back to the early 1800s and documents from the formative years of the AME Church. Looking through some of the materials, Mrs. Jerrido commented, “I’m not sure the denomination knows about the archive.”

An important part of the rich legacy of The Christian Recorder is its role in helping to reunite families torn apart by slavery. From the 1860s until the early 1900s, numerous African-Americans placed advertisements in newspapers (including TCR) searching for loved ones. In 2016, the “Information Wanted” project was started by Judith Giesberg, professor of history at Villanova University to help transcribe and record the placements as well as to attempt to trace successful reunions. In addition to Dr. Giesberg, the project is directed by Mrs. Jerrido and Carole Emberton, Professor of History, SUNY Buffalo. The Christian Recorder was selected as the first paper to be transcribed because it existed before the Civil War and had the longest continuous run that was available to researchers. It has been completely transcribed and researchers are now working on advertisements in other African-American periodicals. Mrs. Jerrido described the experience as “phenomenal.” The project has been covered by various local and national news outlets as well as being profiled by National Public Radio.

For more information on the “Information Wanted” project please visit http://www.informationwanted.org/. While work on The Christian Recorder has been completed, participants are being actively engaged to help transcribe the advertisements in other papers.

The following is the text from an advertisement placed by S.M. Hightower of Rockmount, Georgia in the September 2, 1880, edition of The Christian Recorder upon identifying some of his relatives:

INFORMATION WANTED OF MY RE-lation. My uncle’s name is Howard Hightower, his wife’s name, Martha Hightower; three sons, Henry, Daniel and John; daughters, Mary, Caroline and Harriet. I
have found Henry and Mary, who are living in Greensboro, Ga. We all belonged to William Hightower as late as 1862 ’63, and at his death we were divided. Some went to Alabama, Southwestern Georgia and
some to Polk county, Ga., while some remained in Green county, Ga., all of us being natives of that county. Uncle’s name, Andy Hightower. Aminia and Louisiana Hightower are sisters to Andy. I
will inform my uncles and aunts that their mother is living in Greensboro; also two of her sons. Any information will be gladly received by S. M. HIGHTOWER.
Rockmount, Ga.

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