Orphaned photographs

Old pictures are what motivated me to start family history research.

My husband’s mother was the keeper of all memorabilia and photographs for her extended family. Old studio portraits were lovingly packed away with her scrapbooks and diaries. She’d carefully organized photos of her children and grandchildren into envelopes marked with the year but left no clues about the older pictures. In 1998, when she downsized to a senior apartment from the home she and her husband had built in 1939, the treasures from her attic relocated to our house.

My mother, too, was a saver. Mom moved only a couple times in 60+ years, and she valued things from the past. Her home became the repository for her and my dad’s family’s history. When Mom died in 2007, I discovered a cache of family photos and documents at her house. One box appeared to contain items cherished by my paternal grandmother and stored away upon her death in 1961 (and not opened again).

An orphan photo

An orphaned photo

I’ve spent the past decade trying to solve the mysteries of who’s pictured in all those old photos. When I opened today’s StarTribune, I stopped in my tracks to read “Orphaned Photos,” an article written by James Lileks with the caption “Antique photos hold haunting memories of people long-forgotten.”

Writing about old photos available for purchase in vintage shops, Lileks said, “Someone inherited the pictures and didn’t know who any of the people were. So they sold them off, turning everyone into orphans.”

I immediately recalled the two-dozen-or-so studio portraits saved by my mother-in-law. Her Swedish-born father had one sister who’d emigrated to the U.S. and married a man named Johnson in Cloquet. The stack of portraits were all made by Cloquet or Duluth photographers. Who were these people in the photos? Wasn’t there a Johnson descendant who would appreciate the pictures?

So far I’ve failed to find anyone interested in them, but I can’t bring myself to throw or give away the precious photos.

Click here to read Orphaned Photos.

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