that time I reunited antique photos with their family…

I got my collecting gene from my dad. We both love junk. He doesn’t necessarily collect things like I do but he certainly loves to buy them. His Saturday mornings are spent auctioning and he’s a huge fan of a dollar box.

If you aren’t familiar with auctions, larger items and things that are worth something get auctioned off individually but there are tons of items that it’s just not worth anyone’s time to do that with. Those get thrown in a box. Before an auction starts you have the opportunity to go around and finger through things and see if a box might contain something you’re interested in. Sometimes boxes go for a lot, when someone spots something inside they have their heart set on, but quite often they sell for next to nothing. Dollar boxes are fairly common at the auctions he attends, and sometimes the auctioneer will even offer a lot of boxes for a single dollar simply because no one is bidding. My dad loves that. Many times he’ll come home with just boxes and boxes of random things because he couldn’t resist. He then distributes the finds among my brothers, their children and I. Of course, there is lots of actual junk but he’s definitely found more than a few really great things.

Over the summer, one of his dollar box finds was three photo albums chock-full of old photos dating all the way back to 1912 which he gave to me knowing I LOVE old photos. I pored over those albums. The photos were incredible. I had no idea what I’d do with the massive album and it’s two smaller buddies but I certainly couldn’t let them just get tossed.

Fast forward to last week, I was cleaning my office and stumbled upon the albums again. I remembered that there were some Christmas photos which made me think maybe I could find an old Halloween photo as well and that it’d make a cool Instagram post. While flipping through the pages of the largest album, I spotted a newspaper clipping. Mrs. Mary Krall had written in to The Cleveland Press about her giant turnips requesting that they share a photo since she took such ‘great pride’ in them. Out of curiosity and not really expecting to find anything, I decided to look up the name and address listed. I found a listing on FindAGrave that revealed she was buried in a cemetery near my home!

I flipped through the album a few more times, searching for faces I could tie to names and names I could hopefully tie to headstones I would search for. In my hunt, I even found photos of a family headstone that were taken back on Halloween of 1948.

Armed with names and a hand-drawn map I made from the terribly hard to read ones available online I headed for the cemetery! Luckily, the map I drew had some key elements that made hunting down the headstones fairly easy. Less than two hours after looking up the name online I was standing at her grave.

Being able to hunt down the graves of those in the album was a thrill! I have so many interesting old photos that I’d love to figure out more about. It’s just really neat to be able to tie names to photos to headstones. More exciting than that though?


As I write this post, the three albums are in the mail heading to one of the men in the photograph’s great-niece. When I was looking up some of the names I found in the albums on different sites, I happened to notice a comment on FindAGrave that sparked my interest. Someone had left a comment indicating they thought this person might be their great uncle. I couldn’t click on the name fast enough! Her profile made me even more excited as it was clear she was super interested in family history. She had surnames listed on her page that matched up with the album. I had chills.

I reached out, showed her the photos and offered to send the albums her way. She seemed very excited and shared some family history with me. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if the tables were turned. I’ve literally had dreams about finding old albums of my family in random places.

It’s so funny that one little comment she left, probably not thinking much of it, was able to connect us. I guess that goes to show if you’re interested in your family tree and doing research online, always leave a trail of breadcrumbs so people can find you!

Another fun tidbit from this saga – The large black album? The woman I reached out to said a matching one was found in her mother’s things when she passed away. So interesting, right?!

I’m still just over the moon about this whole thing. Every step of it has been exciting – getting the album, finding names, researching their history, searching out the headstones, and of course, tracking down a living relative to give the album back to. It’s always been a mystery to me how old albums like this get tossed in the trash or put up for auction. I couldn’t imagine how no one in a family would be interested in keeping them but now I’ve realized that just because they end up in these places doesn’t mean everyone in the family knows they’re there. My dad doesn’t recall which auction he got these from or what else was there. I’m so curious if there were more old albums stashed in other boxes or if there were other important family heirlooms floating around that auction. I’m just so happy to be able to play a part in getting a little piece of family history back where it belongs.

Gosh, now all I want to do is find old things at auctions and track down family who might still want it!

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  • OMG those turnips! What a great story. The headstone photo is just too much! I used to go to auctions all the time in Ohio and I agree, most of it’s junk but the possibility of a gem is too good to pass up most times!

  • one of my favorite things to dig through at estate sales are pictures!! i have so many random ones that i’ve picked and hung on my wall at home <3 this was a fantastic story, thank you!

  • This is awesome! I am alway thinking of the longevity of things because I work at a frame shop. There is so much stuff that parents frame thinking their kids are going to keep (and I always think, yeah right) or on the opposite end, there are childless adults who are framing tons of their ancestors photos, and I think “Who’s going to keep all this?”

    One cool solution my boss came up with was writing really interesting stories on the back of the frame. Seriously, with the intent that when he dies, and they have sell off the estate, some rando buying the photo at an estate sale, will still get that heartfelt story. He has living relatives, but no children so easily a lot of his stuff could get passed over. I can see how this sort of stuff get passed over, there is just so many things some people have, so it is awesome you were able to share all these photos!

  • I’m really curious about the dollar box concept. What type of auctions are these? Are they like at fancy auction houses? Thanks!