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Schrader: Mystery photo brings genealogy to mind

Published: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 12:12 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 7, 2014 1:10 p.m. CDT
(Barry Schrader – editorial@daily-chronicle.com)
This portion of a large framed collage of family photos includes the heading of a mother’s loving message to her daughter. By publishing this, it is hoped someone will be able to identify the family and the collection of photos can be returned.

Last week I was contacted by a Sycamore woman named Mary, who doesn’t want her last name printed, who found a large framed collage of photos that had no identities and was left in a storage container.

Mary and a relative occasionally seek out storage unit auctions where abandoned property is sold to the highest bidder. It reminded me of the reality TV series “Storage Wars,” but less dramatic.

Last year they attended an auction at a ministorage facility on the south side of DeKalb and purchased a container of personal belongings that had been left in a unit. Among the items in the lot was this large frame with several family photos and a handwritten message “To my loving daughter” from an unnamed mother. I agreed to publish a photo of one part of the framed collage in hopes that a friend or family member will recognize the people. If someone does and contacts me through this column, then Mary will gladly return it to the family.

This brings to mind a recent presentation I made to an ancestry/genealogy class through the Lifelong Learning Institute at Northern Illinois University. I talked about preserving family photos, diaries, Bibles, legal papers and personal correspondence. Something sad in this day and age is the lack of personal letters because of email and all the other new digital media like Facebook and Twitter, which will deny future genealogists and historians essential information they have had access to in the past.

Can you imagine how little biographical material we would be able to retrieve from the lives of Jefferson and Lincoln if all they used were digital devices? How will family researchers in the future be able to knowledgeably write about their ancestors?

If I didn’t have the diaries from my grandmother and mother, plus numerous other documents like diplomas, teaching contracts, deeds, and scrapbooks full of clippings about family and friends, my genealogy project would be much less informative.

Photographs often present another problem, whether they are digitally stored on a disk, hard drive, or in a photo album during the past century. Are there full names, dates and locations attached to each photo?

Before my mother’s death in 1983, I was fortunate to be able to sit down with her, using a cassette recorder and have her number each page in four family photo albums and describe each photo as she remembered those occasions and people, all the way back to her grade-school days in Waterman.

If you have an aging parent, aunt, uncle or even a cousin who knows your family history, don’t hesitate another month to get them to share what they remember. Try to identify all the photos you may have preserved or that they have in their own family album.

It will make the task so much easier for you or your descendants when it is time to produce a genealogy some time in the future.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday on this page.

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