So sometimes truth is really stranger than fiction. If I would’ve written the following story in one of my books people would say it was too coincidental to ever happen in real life. To them I have to say, “You’ve obviously never seen my real life!”
About 7 or 8 years ago I caught the genealogy bug and signed up for a free trial long weekend on Ancestry.com. Now, to be honest, I didn’t do ANYTHING that entire weekend but play on Ancestry and update as much of my family tree in all directions as I humanly could so that I could cancel my “membership” before they pulled their first extremely expensive monthly payment. I love the idea of the site, but it’s pricey.
Anyway, fast forward to two nights ago. I received a notification from Ancestry.com that I had received a message from someone. The subject line was, “I have your family pictures” That caught my interest so I headed out to the website to log in and read the message.
I hope she won’t mind me reproducing the note here, but it will save me time in summarizing it:
I believe that I have your family pictures and artifacts. I have a box containing probably close to 1000 pictures, negatives, birth and death certificates, adoption records, enlistment papers and even baby shoes :) I have been holding on to this box for YEARS in hopes of finding its rightful owners. I don’t want any money.
I cannot remember exactly how I got it. I was an antique dealer at the time and am a photographer. I am naturally drawn to pictures, frames etc. at auctions so that is probably how I got it. I can’t be sure. I decided not to sell/use these items because it is an amazing, vast collection of someone’s family history. I also believed that I could in fact FIND this family and return it to them.
Again, I don’t want money. What I want is assurance that I am in fact returning this box to the right family and that the person who receives these items will in fact keep them and treasure them forever. Ideally, I’d like to return these items to the direct descendants of Sarah and Herman Hatcher (hansard?).
I know this is kinda weird. I realize that this message may not reach you for quite some time but I plan to hold on to these items until I can return them to the family they belong to.
VERY cool! I couldn’t pass up the chance to see if these were really our family photos and documents, so I messaged her back and told her I was in Arizona and asked where she was located figuring I could see how much it was to pay for shipping.
A few hours later I received a response. Excited, I read the note that told me her cross streets – which were actually less than a mile away from my house!!
My writer’s antennae immediately bristled. I hadn’t told her WHERE in Arizona I lived, so I was immediately suspicious about how she knew those cross streets would even make sense to me. So being the nosy person I am – AND a suspicious one I Googled her :) I found out immediately that she was, indeed, a photographer and local. I also found her Facebook page, and of course checked that out thoroughly as well. Yeah – we writers can stalk with the best of them when we need to…LOL!
As I was digging around on her Facebook page I noticed that we had two friends in common. Since I have nearly 5000 friends on Facebook, it’s not unthinkable that we would have one or two in common, so I clicked to see who the lucky two were.
Bree & Mark who I worked with at Starbucks for three years!!!
Ah hah! Progress :) My snoop gene went into overdrive and I dashed off an email and a text to Bree to get the skinny on this woman. I needed to know if she was legit, or a psycho in order to figure out if there was some type of nefarious angle here or if she truly was a good samaritan who was looking to return our family pictures and things out of the goodness of her heart.
Bree told me that she was a regular customer and a really nice lady. Bree is awesome and reads people well so I was instantly relieved AND excited! I had really hoped this wasn’t a scam of some sort, and now I was really dying to see what was inside that box!
I had arranged to call Aronda (the woman who had sent me the note) last night so we could set up a time/place to meet on Wednesday (today). But when I called her last night and we found out about our mutual Starbucks connection she asked if I’d just like to meet her up there? So while it was still light out I dashed off to Starbucks to meet up with her. She had told me that she would have a white box with her, and that it said, “Pictures of Dead People” on the side – which cracked me up! That is something I can TOTALLY see several members of my family writing on a box like that – myself included!
Bree was right! She is a great lady and I stayed to chat with she and her daughter for nearly an hour before I came home with the box full of treasures. I found out that she knew I probably lived in Arizona because several of the documents in the box had addresses on them – back when we lived less than I mile from where I live now, so she figured I might not have gone far.
As soon as I got home I dug into it and immediately found great stuff! The first was an original metal social security card for my grandfather :) I also found my grandfather’s birth and death certificates, a receipt from 1957 for my great grandfather’s funeral for $1037, and a newspaper clipping from 1943 with pictures of an Allied invasion force during the war. Other treasures included my grandfather’s high school diploma, some baby shoes, my 2nd grade class photo and tons of pictures I either hadn’t seen or hadn’t seen in years.
Unfortunately most of the pictures didn’t have anything written on the back, and I didn’t know most of the people or the places. So I called my Mom and sister to clue them in on the story and to ask my Mom to come over and help me with the box.
My Mom came by this morning, and after I bribed her with breakfast and a Starbucks black tea we sat on the couch with the box between us and dug in. She wrote the names on the back of pictures she recognized and read off any information that I could add into Ancestry.com, and we made it about a quarter of the way through the box before both of us gave up. We plan on doing several more of these sessions to see what else we can find, but after my quick perusal last night, I know there’s more great tuff in there. But Mom knows more of the stories, more of the people and can recognize and help Darian and I put names to a lot of the faces.
It was really fun to see the family resemblance go back through so many people in so many branches of the family. I found smiles, expressions and even stances that reminded me of my son’s or my sister’s daughter throughout that box.
The best we can figure out is that the box was my grandmother’s favorite/most treasured pictures and memories and when she died it probably went to my brother’s house (he was HUGE on keeping family pictures etc) and then when he died, his horrible wife got rid of it without passing it back to any of the family. I call her horrible because she now says she doesn’t count being married to Jim because he’s dead… Yeah – karma will be coming to bite her VERY Soon, I hope! Not a very nice lady…
But moving right along…I’ve now vowed that I will find time before the end of the year to go through MY box of keepsake pictures from my life and write on the back of them so that some future generation will not have to write “Pictures of Dead people” on the side of my box because they don’t know who all those people are! Although just for fun I might write “Pictures of Future Dead People” and the date on the side just to screw with someone someday :)
I can picture one of Darian’s kids sitting down with my box as well as the box my Mom and I are going through now, cross referencing the Ancestry.com tree I’m building and seeing all the resemblances and similarities we are seeing right now.
It’s been an interesting few days, and makes me nostalgic and itchy to find more information for my family tree, but right now both available time and available money are not abundant so it will have to wait. But I DO plan on getting back to it and very soon!
And on that note, this makes the second day in a row I haven’t gotten any writing done. Well…unless you consider this blog! But my WIP hasn’t grown any. So I need to take a fortifying nap and then dive back in to my actual work!
I just hope I don’t have creepy dreams about dead people tonight after looking at them for several hours today. And yes, we did have some of those creepy pictures of family members in their coffins at the funerals…sigh… I’m not sure why that’s such a Southern Baptist (what I was raised) staple, but we have lots of those, and always had food at EVERYTHING. LOL…
Moving right along….I’m off to NOT see pictures of dead people for the rest of the day at least :)