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Are You My Cousin?: A Modern Day Mystery

Are You My Cousin?

Discovering My Ancestors -- One Cousin at a Time

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

I tell the stories of my ancestors’ lives. Whether they lived 20 years ago or 200 years ago, they each have a story to tell. Some ancestors tell their stories willingly. Others must have their stories carefully teased from the records. Sometimes the stories are sad. Sometimes the stories are happy. Sometimes the stories are just funny. Regardless, my ancestors’ stories shaped their lives and the lives of those that followed. Come and share in the tales!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Modern Day Mystery

I have had the pleasure of using my genealogy skills to solve a modern day mystery. A friend of mine told me the story of a box of pictures that her brother found on the side of the road about 9 years ago. He picked the box up concerned that someone had lost family photos. Unfortunately, my friend's bother passed away before discovering the box's owner. My friend kept the box for about 7 years, always hoping to find the owner and to be able to reunite a family with their photos. Learning of my interest in genealogy, my friend asked me if I might be able to track the family down. I eagerly agreed to try.

I started by sorting the box of photos and photo albums. Immediately, I found the local address where the original family lived from the box lid as well as the original photos owner from a photo album. (I'll call her Elizabeth for sake of clarity and yet privacy of her family.) Turning to the Internet and more specifically to ancestry.com, I learned that the woman who belonged to the photos had died in the 1990's and her mother (who lived with her) was no longer in the area.

At this point, I returned to the box and again re-sorted its contents. This time, I found an envelope addressed to the Elizabeth's mother. Inside was a Christmas card signed from Elizabeth's sibling and family. I returned to the Internet and looked up the return address from the envelope. Success! The family still lived at the same address in New York state. I called the phone number with no success. I repeatedly got an answering machine, but was unsure how to leave the kind of message that would make sense.

Snail mail was my next step. I wrote a letter to the family detailing the box and how it came into my possession. I provided all my contact information. Weeks went by before one morning I received an e-mail from NY inquiring if I still had the box. A few e-mails back and forth were followed by a phone call one Friday evening. Elizabeth's brother called me and was astounded that anyone had actually picked up the box of photos much less saved them all these years. As we talked, he told me the story of Elizabeth and her love of photography. Elizabeth had been in the military and later worked in advertising. Her mother lived with her. She unfortunately died of cervical cancer at a young age. When her family cleaned out Elizabeth's home after her death, they took with them all the family photos and special mementos. The box of photos that my friend's brother picked up all those years ago, was indeed not wanted by the family. I learned that the photos were of people the family did not know and held no special meaning for Elizabeth's family.

While the photos were unwanted photos, Elizabeth's brother was amazed and grateful that someone would be concerned enough to rescue a box of unknown photos and track down the owner. I have enjoyed the opportunity to put my genealogy skills to the test and solve this modern day family history mystery.

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