Returning Those Pictures Home

Last year when I drove to New Jersey, I took the opportunity to check out the storage unit, which was filled with  boxes placed there after the sale of Grandma’s house. Some contained familiar dishes, glasses, holiday decorations, and lots of old photos. You all know which boxes I grabbed.

I spent a lot of time after that trip making amateur-ish attempts to market my book, so I had hardly looked at the contents.  In March, I had my hip surgery, so suddenly, I had lots of time on my hands to really examine those old albums. Many are falling apart, so I am hoping to remove many of those photos and place them in a new one in time for my July visit.

There is one album in particular that I have been having a lot of fun viewing, because it contains labeled photos of her World War II pen pals. How sweet! Since most are just random people rather than family, I decided it would be fun to return them to the men in the photos or their relatives. They would be more meaningful to them than to me or Grandma.

Using the tools I use to build my family tree, I set to work. If the person was deceased (which I could find using the Social Security Death Records on, I usually was able to find an obituary, which almost always listed the surviving family. Most were on Facebook, and when I reached out to them and explained that I possessed wartime photos of their father/grandfather/brother, all wanted the originals. No one asked how I found them, which I thought was especially interesting, particularly when the names did not even match.

The Boonton Facebook page—You Just Might be a Boonton-ite If…—was very helpful in locating family members. Six matches were the direct result of that page.

One match was a daughter of Grandma’s pen pal, who told me that my cousin Billy was her seventh-grade boyfriend.

Another picture was sent to the daughter of Grandma’s eighth-grade boyfriend. She was thirteen and he was fifteen. His daughter had never seen any pictures of her dad and that age. He grew up to be a brilliant man who has been honored on the Boonton High Hall of Fame. Grandma recalled that Uncle Rich didn’t like him because he was so smart.

A second album contained mostly family members . I found a living first cousin of Grandma, whose parents died when he was very young. I was contacted by his daughter on Facebook after posting a note to his wife. When I initially sent the digital pictures, she showed them to him and she told me that “He is sitting there crying with emotion.”

Apparently he had a massive stroke, so I was told that “He just gets very emotional now and he is touched someone remembers him.” Grandma enjoyed hearing about her long-lost cousin, and she shared a few memories of visiting him after his parents divorced.

The album from Grandma and Grandpa’s courtship through their return from their honeymoon contained the photo of a couple and their one-year old daughter, who had recently died. Her obituary lead me to her sister, who informed me that her dad was still alive and living not far from Grandma.

He and his wife met Grandma and Grandpa in Texas when they both were called back to service during the Korean War. Joe is 93 now, and in great shape. I told him where Grandma was living, and one day, he and his daughter paid Grandma a surprise visit. Although Aunt Ar worried that Grandma would not recognize him, that was not the case. Grandma told me that Joe hadn’t changed much—“he has the same nose.” Joe told his daughter the exact same thing about Grandma. We both thought that was very cute.

So about once a week, I return to those old albums looking for more matches. I found two more this week! It is a win-win project because I am cleaning up my house and, at the same time, making someone happy in the process.