Lesson Plan: Enslaved Families Lost and Found

A step-by-step guide to teaching this article in your classroom


Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.9, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.6, SL.6-8.1, W.6-8.3, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.7


• Incorporate this article into a unit on the history of slavery in the United States.

• Pair this piece with a lesson on interpreting primary source documents.

• Use this article as an example of the long-term impact of the Civil War on the U.S.

• Share this piece to spark a discussion on the study and purposes of genealogy.

Before Reading


As a class, discuss: Why might people want to research their ancestors and family history? Why might doing so be difficult for the descendants of enslaved people?


Review with students the fact that slavery existed in the United States from the late 17th century through 1865. Tell them that for much of the 1800s, slavery occurred mainly in the Southern states. Enslaved people were considered property and could be bought and sold at their owners’ discretion.

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Read & Analyze


Have students read the article on their own, writing down any comments or questions.


Have students write their answers to each question, or use these prompts to guide a discussion.

  • CENTRAL IDEA: What was the purpose of ads like the one placed by Elizabeth Williams? (The goal of the ads was to help formerly enslaved people reconnect with family members from whom they had been separated.)

  • CLOSE READING: What type of identifying information did the ads tend to include? (The ads included such details as family members’ names and ages, last-known locations, and owners’ names. Many ads described how and when the family was separated.)

  • EXPLICIT INFORMATION: What were two main ways enslaved people were separated from their families? (Many were sold away from their families to different owners. Others escaped to free states in the North, leaving their loved ones behind.)

  • EXPLICIT INFORMATION: How was slavery in the U.S. finally abolished? (The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in 1865, after the Civil War.)

  • ANALYZING DETAILS: Why does historian Judith Giesberg call each ad “a family history”? (Possible answers include: The ads help to tell the stories of what happened to enslaved families. In many cases, the ads are all that remain to document these families’ pasts.)

  • CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why have historians had limited knowledge about slavery from firsthand accounts? (Only a few enslaved people were literate enough to keep diaries or write autobiographies.)

  • MAKING INFERENCES: How did actions by the U.S. government make it harder for formerly enslaved people to find each other after slavery was abolished? (The government didn’t count them as people, so there were few records they even existed.)

  • AUTHOR’S PURPOSE: Why might the author have included the sidebar “Wanted: Runaways”? (Possible answers include: The author might have sought to give another example of how newspapers played a role in the history of slavery. The author might have wanted to include another type of primary source material that offers insight into the time.)

Extend & Assess

As a class, read the skills sheet Analyzing a Primary Source: Searching for Answers. Then have students work with a partner to answer the questions. Go over their responses as a class.

As a class, watch our video “America’s Civil War” in the archives at junior.scholastic.com. As students watch the video, have them write down their answers to the following questions: Why was the South’s economy reliant on the labor of enslaved people? Who was the U.S. president during the Civil War? How many states eventually joined the Confederacy? Who was Jefferson Davis? In what year were African-American soldiers allowed to join the Union Army? How many soldiers died in the war?


Lower Level Help students analyze the ad. Ask: Who placed the ad? Who was she looking for? Where did she last see them? How were they separated? How much time had passed? How do you know? 

Higher Level Have students search the Last Seen online database at informationwanted.org for a record of a reunited family. Then have them write about the family’s separation and reunion in the style of a news article, including facts from the JS story for context.

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