A friend recently asked, “Where do you find all those pictures? And how in the world do you find their families?” Good questions.
As for finding the photographs, what typically happens is that I’m wandering around an antique store or flea market with my husband or a friend. Then, I see them – stashed in a box or a cabinet or under a table or as part of a display of something else entirely. “You go ahead,” I say. “I’ll catch up.” Sometimes I just know this is gonna take a while. I begin to flip through the pictures. Not all of them have information on them. In fact, most have no information at all. But a few have a name, and some even have little clues about location and dates. Here’s a good example:
Lucy Smith Weintz. The photographer’s studio was in Oskaloosa, Iowa. I figured, “Surely there can’t be a lot of women with that name near Oskaloosa.” I was right. There was only one. I plugged her name into the search database at Ancestry.com (I swear I don’t work for them) and got several hits. As this was very early in my learning process, I looked for the quick hit and, this time, I got it. Once again, I found an established family tree with Lucy listed as one of the members of the family. Each tree on Ancestry.com has an owner, and you can send those owners a message through Ancestry. If that person is regularly working on his or her tree, you might get a quick response. Again, this time, I did … with a little surprise.
You may recall that my first “hit” (James Chatfield) was eventually sent to Colorado, and my second (Ilo Graham) went to Ohio. Lucy’s family was a little closer. In fact, not even ten miles from where I found her! I got in touch with the owner of the tree, Barbara Vargas, who lives right here in Atlanta. Barbara was a little surprised to get an e-mail out of the blue, but after taking a look at a scan of the photo, she confirmed that Lucy belonged to her. I padded an envelope, tucked Lucy inside, and sent her off.
It isn’t always that simple or that quick. I have a huge notebook full of orphaned photographs. It can take a lot of digging, and looking in more than one spot. In a few cases, I’ve drawn fairly elaborate timelines, just to get a grip on the information I have found. It’s entirely possible that I won’t find the families of the majority of the photos in the notebook. But when you get that hit, when you yell “Aha!” … it’s worth it. Every single person I’ve ever contacted has been puzzled, curious, and then happy that I made the effort.
So here’s to you, Lucy – when I look in the “Reunited” notebook, I smile a lot. Even if you aren’t smiling at all.