Michael Hawthorne – April 20, 2021

How many times have your eyes looked over a table full of photographs at a flea market, antique shop, or even found some in your grandparent’s attic.  Then wondered who are these people and what was the adventure they were on at the time the image was taken?  The image here of a young woman and that 1930’s BMW is one of a series of ten photos that appeared on the CNN travel website on December 16, 2020 – there were originally twenty-two photos.  Most of the photographs have been identified as being taken in Italy and Switzerland.

“This young lady is the star of a series of recently unearthed photos, developed by Irish camera collector William Fagan from an old roll of film he discovered in a vintage Leica camera -- and since published widely in newspapers.” Although the images survived, her story – who she is and what she was doing in Italy and Switzerland in the 1930’s may never be known.   This is a story that plays out across the globe, old photographs get lost, discarded, or in this case not even developed and then the following generations are left with little to no information about their ancestors.  In this case, “The 22 shots seemed to tell a story, of sorts. Alongside the glamorous young woman, there was an older gentleman -- he was in a few photos and it appeared as though they were traveling through Europe together. In one shot he's pictured, dapper in a suit and tie, sitting outside a café, his eyes shut because of the flash.”


What would you do if you found an old photo lying on the ground during a walk?  While walking near where she works in downtown Newark, Ohio, Lisa Sinnett, came across an old image of a young boy dressed as a sailor with a huge smile on his face.  “This is somebody's dad, grandfather, something — it could possibly be someone's husband or lost child from when they were little. I just want to get it back to people,” Sinnett told the Newark Advocate at the time.

After the photo ran in print and online, Trumbull’s family reached out to Sinnett, who spoke briefly with Trumbull to arrange an exchange. After she learned that Bill Trumbull had passed away recently, Sinnett looked up his obituary and noticed a mention of his “youth-long career in Boy Scouts,” something that particularly resonated with Sinnett, who herself is a Boy Scout troop leader and believes in the power of “doing a good turn.”


When my wife and I travel, during layovers instead of having our faces buried in our phones, we will sit and watch people walking by on their way to somewhere – either their next boarding gate, railroad platform, etc.  Many times we will point to an individual or family and make up a story about them, nothing written down, just making conversation and using our imaginations.  A person will be surprised at the stories that can evolve based on clothing, what they are carrying, whether there are children involved and more. 

This may seem like a fun exercise while traveling, and it is, but after starting FamilyStories.Store, recently I have started to give that exercise some thought as a bystander.  I wonder if the families that we are watching are documenting their travels and adventures like so many did in the past.  Did they take a special photograph and then have it printed and placed in a photo album, like our parents and their parents before them?  The real challenge with this is that the person who put the image in the album may be the only person who knows the story about that photograph. 

As William Fagan pointed out in the story above concerning the twenty-two photographs he found, "Photographs capture a moment in time, which can never be relived again. That's the most important thing about photography," I remember watching as a child, my mother preparing a new photograph for the family album.  Many times, we would browse through the other pages and she would tell me who the people were, aunts, uncles, grandparents and more – and tell me what they were doing or where the image was taken.  This was all oral tradition that has been so important in keeping family history relevant and alive.


For the full articles mentioned in this story please click the links below:

“Rediscovered 70-year-old photos spark worldwide quest”


“Missing decades-old photo returned to Newark owner: 'My heart feels better.'”


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