Finding a Home for the Hollenbergs

On a recent trip to Burlington, Iowa, I drove through the town of Roseville, Illinois. Right in the middle of town was an antique store.   It was lovely. Clean and well organized.

“Do you have any photographs?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not sure. I have trouble keeping them in the store. They get bought as soon as they come in,” the shopkeeper replied.

We looked around. Up on a high shelf were two. I bought them both. One of them had names in the margin.

“Are these local images? This is the Hollenberg family.”

“Oh, yes. I believe they had a farm a little bit east of here.”

Don’t you love small towns? In this case, the shopkeeper was also a bit of a local historian. She knew the families in and around her town.

I know that if someone had a photo like this of my ancestors standing on their family homestead, I’d love to have it.

Today’s orphan photo adventure is finding a home for the Hollenberg’s. I’ve adopted them, of course, which means I’ve dug into their family tree.

I start every endeavor like this by counting the clues then making a list.


  • It’s a farm. You can see rows of plants in the foreground and horses
  • 1916 appears on the barn.
  • Names along the bottom edge: Herman Hol [unreadable], Alvin Hollenberg, Emma, Vesta, and Mabel
  • I bought it in Roseville, Warren County, Illinois

It’s safe to assume that the family posed with all their work animals and buggies in front of a new barn. The initial assessment relied on that painted 1916. It may not be correct.

Alvin Who?

The only legible full name is Alvin Hollenberg.   Finding the facts of his life wasn’t difficult. had the information I needed. Alvin, born 23 March 1896, died in October 1971. He lived in Roseville his whole life. I encountered this photo in 2018, forty-seven years after his death.

In circumstances like this I couldn’t help but wonder:

  • Why was it in an antique shop now?
  • Who owned it before it ended up there?
  • Are their any other family members still living?

The last question doesn’t always have an affirmative answer. Some families die out. I might have to go back another generation to find a match.

With a possible date of 1916, I looked at both the 1910 and the 1920 census.   By 1920, Alvin is married to a woman named Vesta and they have two young sons under two years of age.

He married Vesta Elvetta Holeman on March 29, 1917. His parents were Louis Hollenberg and Sarah Taylor.

When I saw that her maiden name was Holeman, I wonder if Herman was one of her relations.   Her parents are Albert Holeman and Sarah Jones.   Hmmm. It was time for another broader search to see if I could identify Herman, Emma, and Mabel.

Genealogy Bingo!  

There was in fact a Herman Holeman married to a woman named Emma and they had a daughter Mabel. Did I mention that Emma’s maiden name was Taylor, same as Alvin’s mother’s maiden name? Did I mention that some Taylor’s owned a farm adjacent to Alvin’s? The time frame for this photo became established. The youngest person in it was the anchor for that bit of information.

Mabel ( born 1916) was about two years of age. The photo was likely taken in 1918.

Finding Family

Connecting the family tree dots is fun.   But will this research result in a loving home for this great photo?

It’s time to go back to the research. This time I’m looking for a family tree.   I’m hoping for a direct descendant of Alvin, Herman, or the Taylor women.

There are thirteen public trees on with descendants of Alvin Clive Hollenberg and ten for Herman Holeman. Several of the trees overlap which suggests that these folks have found evidence that the Holeman’s and Hollenberg’s were related.

To narrow this further, I’ll look at each tree. Who knows maybe they even have another picture of one of these people.

Here’s my criteria for matching the picture with a descendant.

  • A family tree with documented research.
  • Someone who’s used his or her account recently. (I could look at other genealogy sites as well)

Since there are trees that contain both families I started with them.

Wish me luck!   I reached out to one man.   I’ll wait thirty days.

Here’s what I wrote:

“I’ve located a photo of your ancestors Alvin Hollenberg and Herman Holeman posed in front of a barn with Emma, Vesta, and Mabel. I’m trying to reunite this photo with family. There is no fee associated with this email. Would you like this image?”

I’ll work my way through the trees and if no one wants it, I’ll try to locate a historical society that will take it. I know who they are, when it was taken, where it was taken, and even why (the new barn). Surely this photo won’t go unclaimed.

On to the next Orphan Photo Adventure!