Episode 123: America’s Pandemic Pastime: Making Photo Reunions Happen

Every time I see another news story on a photo reunion that’s happened through crowdsourcing images online I chuckle.  I have a closet full of mysteries and not much luck reuniting images with living people. Yet, just in the last few months, there are images being shared online that are within a short time being reunited.  It’s clearly the world’s new Pandemic pastime.  

There is a Victoria Johnson, a professor at Hunter College who’s the author of American Eden: David Hosack Botany and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2019.  15 years ago she found a snapshot of a family in a used book she bought in New York City. This year she posted it to Twitter and it lit up the Twitterverse 80 comments, 684 shares, 1.9 Million likes  Yowza.  And the family was identified.  You can view the image and thread in the Links. 

In 2008, Jennifer Skupin, a designer who lives in the Netherlands, found a box of 200 slides at a Dutch flea market of people in Alaska circa 1960. She tried to identify the people but couldn’t.  Recently she put the images in a Google Drive folder where people can comment. 

Bingo!  Many of the images have been commented on and identified.  You can view them in the Google Drive link in the show notes 

These are only two of the photo-related stories I’ve read about recently.  Both of these covered on CNN. com 

There are other photos in the news. Paul Moar was in the right place and time to find images of the Shetland Islands being discarded at the recycling center. He saved them and is using a Facebook page, Shared Shetland Memories, to share the images and gather information. Paul was on The Photo Detective podcast in a bonus episode 

There are other photo reunion episodes being worked on for the podcast so stay tuned.  

Let’s look at the history of this Orphan photo/photo rescue movement.  

Decades ago, reuniting images with family wasn’t very popular. Then genealogist Marge Rice began collecting images with names on them from the Chicago area. Marge, we miss you!  And in 1998  Joe Bott started DeadFred.com, a website where folks can post mystery images or identified ones looking for family connections.  It was what we had prior to social media.  By the way, Marge left her collection to him. I caught up with him in episode 32. 

Reconnecting families with lost images and mementos was the stuff that genealogists did. Not journalists.  How did this happen?

The huge genealogy databases of Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and others changed all that.  Anyone can go into an antique shop, purchase an image with a name, and start searching.  Then facilitate a reunion. 

Keep in mind the following: Not all images have living family members.  Not all images are wanted by family. 

The question in my mind is which family member should have the picture. 

Debra Clifford of Ancestorville Genealogy offers digital copies or originals for sale on her website and on social media. It’s just one of the many sites that now do this. 

Social media is altering the way photo rescues work. 

On Social media  “lost photos” looking for family love are prevalent. I wrote a blog post called Family Photos on Instagram.  So many places to look!

You can also find image connections through special Facebook groups too. 

Last April, I featured Identified images on the Photo Detective Facebook page in an attempt to see if any descendants popped up. Nope. 

If you’re related to the following people, check out the link to my Photo of the Day challenge

Elizabeth Myers, Carlisle, PA

Addie Hanley, later Mrs. Adkins of Easton Pa or Trenton NJ

One of the most active reunions FB pages is Kate Keller’s  Forgotten Faces, Forgotten Places with over 9K members.  She helps make the connections and people pose with their returned images   Hey Kate!  I’m still hoping for an image of some of my RI folks…hint, hint 

Victoria’s use of Twitter is a new one. But not surprising considering that the snap dated from the 1960s and the user demographic of Twitter. Watch for more photo rescue stories on this platform. 

Anyone can do this. Jump into this photo rescue phenomena and join the fun. If you need some feel-good moments, try reuniting a picture with “lost family.”  You’ll be saving a piece of someone’s history. As family historians, we know how wonderful that feels.. 

I’ve enjoyed sending historical societies photos I’ve rediscovered. As a former curator, I lean towards making these gifts.   

Got a photo rescue story to share?  Email me at photodetective @maureentaylor.com You might end up a guest on this podcast. 

Related Episodes:

Bonus Episode: Lost History Discovered (in the Recycling)

Episode 101: Rediscovering an African American Community


About Maureen Taylor:

Maureen is a frequent keynote speaker on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history at historical and genealogical societies, museums, conferences, libraries, and other organizations across the U.S., London and Canada.  She’s the author of several books and hundreds of articles and her television appearances include The View and The Today Show (where she researched and presented a complete family tree for host Meredith Vieira).  She’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, The Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Living, Germany’s top newspaper Der Spiegel, American Spirit, and The New York Times. Maureen was recently a spokesperson and photograph expert for MyHeritage.com, an internationally known family history website and also writes guidebooks, scholarly articles and online columns for such media as Smithsonian.com. Learn more at Maureentaylor.com

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