Created to control the movement of enslaved people, runaway advertisements ultimately preserved the details of individual lives–their personality, appearance, and life story. Taken collectively, these ads constitute a detailed, concise, and rare source of information about the experiences of enslaved people. Unfortunately, most of these ads are not freely available in a digital and searchable format. At Freedom on the Move, our goal is to collect, digitize, and make these advertisements available to everyone.

My role as a software developer has been to develop a full featured web application for importing, crowdsourcing, and searching runaway advertisements. The import system allows approved users to upload new advertisements to our collection using the BagIt standard developed by the Library of Congress. The crowdsourcing application allows users to transcribe images of advertisements and then input information about specific fields that are stored in the PostgreSQL database. Finally, the search feature gives users the ability to search our entire database using a wide range of filters from the information collected in crowdsourcing and the powerful search capabilities of Elasticsearch. With these tools, researchers can do important historical research, teachers can reveal to their students parts of history that are often overlooked, and genealogists can find ancestors that weren’t previously known.