Left Behind Family History: Part Two


This is a follow up to a post I did last summer. I am doing this because I wanted to see if the disregard of family heirlooms is as widespread as I thought. It wasn’t. It was worse! My granddaughter Nicole and I spent the summer months photographing these lost heirlooms. The few pictured here were picked from almost a thousand photos. So I am going to let the pictures tell the story. The picture at the top of this post was taken at an outdoor flea market. I could not help trying to imagine how they ended up at an outdoor flea market. This next picture was taken at a church rummage sale. The frame was for sale for twenty-five cents. When I looked behind the picture of the Marine, I found two others behind it. The name on the back of the three  photos confirmed they were all of the same young man. I can’t help but wonder what happened.



I was dismayed to find so many wedding pictures that had been discarded.  Families draw together at weddings. These could be a major find of one’s relatives. Below you will see two such wedding photographs.



I found discarded yearbooks everywhere. They were priced from five dollars and up. Pictured below are just some of the hundreds of yearbooks that I found over the summer.

I would love to have any of my relatives school yearbook. I would be happy for any, grade school, high school, or college.  Not only would the pictures be welcome but the sentiments  written in the yearbook would be nice to read. A year book could make a relative you scarcely knew come to life or give you some insight on a relative you thought you knew very well. 

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The next picture is of a championship sports team that was taken in 1950. So in this picture is somebody’s father, grandfather, and maybe a great grandfather. This is a great picture of young men in their prime. I wonder if their descendants ever think about them in this context. If they had this picture I am sure they might. 

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The next few pictures were taken in a photographer’s studio. They are someone’s ancestor and should be with the proper family.

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This next photograph is of two fun loving people. They seem to be on a roof top as they strike their pose for the photographer. Wish I could find some pictures like that in my family.

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The next picture was perhaps my best and worst find. The best because of the great story it told. It was about a soldier in World War One. It had pictures of his family and his buddies in the army. Notations on the edge of the map were about places he had been and battles fought. Cartoons of the day were displayed that related to his experiences.  It was rather large but what a great story it told. It was my worst find because somehow this great heirloom has been lost to his family.


The following pictures show boxes and boxes of lost family history. Most of you put in much time and labor into your genealogy. What have you done to make sure that this will not happen in your family? How do you know that all of your work will not be lost? What have you done to secure documents and pictures from family members? Pleas leave a comment. Share your thought on this. I look forward to hearing from you.

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101 Responses to Left Behind Family History: Part Two

  1. Amy says:

    Wow, how sad. Someday someone will be wondering what their great-grandparents looked like, and all the pictures will be gone. I heard someone tell the story of a friend who goes to tag sales and buys old pictures for the frames, discards the pictures and then uses the frames. I wish I had every picture ever taken of my ancestors.

  2. Tara says:

    I’m a sucker for old photos and documents and books…if I can afford it, I will always by them up just to give them a good home, if nothing else. I have boxes of relevant yearbooks and other old books. It’s a shame that people don’t take the time to try to pair them with their proper families instead of just selling or discarding them.

  3. This is so sad, I know how much a photo would mean to me. I have so many ancestors in my tree whose faces are lost forever. Make you think..

  4. So sad. I treasure my family photos. Those top photos are in such beautiful frames, it’s hard to imagine someone getting rid of them.

  5. Catherine says:

    Oh no… this is just so terribly sad 😥

  6. gpcox says:

    A total disregard for one’s heritage and family. Unless every member of their family is gone and strangers are cleaning out the house – there’s no excuse!

  7. ashkej says:

    I agree in that it is extremely sad. Whilst in some cases it possibly is the clearing out of a neighbour or friend’s house after their death and there’s nothing to be done, but I think a fair portion of the time its just that people don’t care about this stuff (although shocked at the one about the Marine as it seems so recent!).

    I consider myself lucky that I have spoken at length with my mother and great-aunts about what they have and have an inkling of who has what (and of whom!).

    A few years ago I was at a rummage sale in France and picked up two boxes of memories. One was full of old photos of family members, but the other was full of postcards written to the family. A large section of which was written by a French officer during his time in WW1. I couldn’t let them go to waste or – worse – someone who didn’t care about them!

  8. this is really sad. I would love to have more pictures, letters or documents from my family. But my own cousing (after inheriting Grandma’s house) threw out almost everything because he re-worked the whole house. I was out of the country that time and just got the reply when I was back asking where all the stuff was “well, nobody said he wanted it”.. I was furious!

  9. What a shame. It’s really unthinkable to me.

  10. Janet says:

    Agreed! I would love to have more pictures of my relatives. I have searched out 3rd and 4th cousins in the hopes of finding pictures that might have gone their way. I have some luck there. I also have found yearbooks dating back to the 1910’s in my local library. A great place to find portraits!
    Sad, but nice post!

  11. solopress11 says:

    Thank you for reminding all of us the value of family past and present. I will be the caretaker of family albums when my father passes, but when I pass “WHO?” I have a niece and nephew, but do they care enough to pass on the lives of those before us. The younger generation may not see and feel what we do about ‘history’, and sadly I don’t know how to get them involved. Keep posting maybe some young folks will read your thoughts and ‘care’.
    Alexis Campbell Jansky
    Solopress II

  12. Gerald & Joan says:

    This post hit home for me because my great-grandmother, grandmother and parents took tons of photos from the late ’40s onward, and I recently inherited many of them as film slides. I have enjoyed digitizing the slides and creating photo books from them so much that I am considering making that a part of my graphic design and marketing business. While these images are precious to me for sentimental reasons, I also see the historical significance they have. I can’t imagine ever not wanting to have them in my life, and if I am ever blessed with children, they will grow up surrounded by images and stories of their great-great-great-grandparents and everyone who has come along since then.

  13. When my own parents died, and my brothers and sister and I , who were all young, had to clean out the house that had belonged to our parents and grandparents, we found trunks, boxes, and bags full of photos and memorabilia we knew nothing about! How sad that no one shared those stories with us as children! We threw away a lot, because it was mildewed in the basement! We asked family members for ID’s , but got only a few! its now 34 years later, I’m 64 instead of 30, and I’d love to have a do over! I would work harder at the ID’s, work smarter! This experience made me determined to label my own photos more carefully–yes! But, did I all these years? well…like mother like daughter! not always! PS I finally got my DNA done through ancestry, and have a ton, like 200 More matches! I’m wondering if you’d tell me your tree or user name? I am listed as hyholshouser, and my Old Virginia Families is my main tree. I’d love to compare notes. Helen

  14. to solopress11– I didn’t catch the family bug, the genealogy bug, until in my 50’s. I think that is true of a lot of people! I belong to a group of cousins all trying to solve some puzzles, break down some brick walls, in our Hogue/Hogg family tree! One cousin in Wisconsin, whom I’ve only met through ancestry, knew an uncle, a great uncle who had a huge family tree, plus had an engraved family heirloom that we are all now guessing as to what the engraving said! The sugar bowl is even mentioned in a newspaper article from the 1940’s, but not the actual engraving! That tree, that engraving, could , might either hold the key to our mystery…but no one knows where either got off too! I’m putting as much online as I can, like in an online vault, or library I hope.Then when my great, great niece decides at age 60 that she’d like to know something about the family, she will find the gift I have left her! I encourage you to do something similar, because someone will come looking! Helen

    • chmjr2 says:

      Hi Helen, Thanks for reading my blog and all of your great comments. I will try to contact you in ancestry.com in a few days. With luck we may match up.

  15. I know what you mean. I haven’t been able to get anyone in my family interested. I’ve asked for photos, mementos, stories, etc. Responses? Oh, I don’t have time to go through it. My response? Let me, let me. Then comes more excuses — up in the attic, don’t want to, etc. etc. And those are just the few relatives I have. I wish I knew if maybe you’ve ended up with some of my history that no one else seems to be interested in! 🙂 The little bit I have, if I don’t find a family member interested, then I think I’ll just find either a library or gen. society that might want it down the road.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thanks for you comment. Just keep asking for access to these treasures. At least when the time comes to clean out these item everyone in your family will know to call you.

  16. Sally says:

    I sat with my father several summers ago and went through many of his scrapbooks. I recorded each conversation, prefacing it with a description of the scrapbook we were talking about. My hope was to transcribe those conversations — because they didn’t just identify the people, he told stories about each one, like, where they got the dog in one picture, and what they were actually eating in another. Unfortunately, transcribing is a slow process and my life is full, so I haven’t done much of it — but at least I took a step in the preservation of our family’s history. Some day, I’ll finish the task.

  17. RootsGenie says:

    It’s so sad to see all the precious photos separated from their families. I only wish I had as many of the ancestors that I am researching. Perhaps they should consider donating them to a local archive who could post them on a lost photos website. Thanks for sharing!

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my blog. It is sad to see all of the pictures and such not in family hands. However keep in mind in most cases the were lost due to no interest in their family.

  18. jenorv says:

    That is sad the way lives are discarded. These photos all tell someone’s story that is now lost forever. Still this is not a new thing, Americans seem to be forward focused and tend to let the past go. Few know or care about elderly relatives and how they lived, even fewer seem to know the history of their own country. Thanks for raising awareness of this.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I would like to disagree with you, but I can’t. More and more history is being pushed aside. Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time for a comment.

  19. lee says:

    I have always wondered how family pictures end up at flea markets, antique stores, and various other sales, and what the stories are behind those faces. The pictures are always interesting, but sad to know their families’ have lost them.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I know how they end up in flea markets and such. I just don’t understand why. Thank you for following my blog and look forward to your future comments.

  20. Sheryl says:

    Whew, you sure found a lot of abandoned pictures. It’s so sad.

  21. Su Leslie says:

    As someone who has very few family photos and virtually no heirlooms, I’m with you in feeling sad that these can be abandoned to flea-markets and junk shops. On the flip side, until a few years ago, I might have been one of those doing the abandoning. I only began to appreciate family history after my own child was born.

    • chmjr2 says:

      I am willing to bet what photographs and such that you do have is well taken care of. I just hope people take note of this and take measures that will take care of their items.

      • Su Leslie says:

        Hm! I’m the classic case of the builder whose house is falling down. I trained as an archivist and while the small collection of photos, etc I have is physically safe, it’s a long way from being properly preserved. In my defense, I am in the process of moving house so I have a bit of an excuse. And I agree with you, I hope that people do start to think more about the value of the items that belong in families. 🙂

  22. Keith says:

    I was not conscious of this happening until I read your first post on this subject. Shortly afterward, I was at a local flea market and noticed boxes and boxes of vintage family photos. Many were not even in albums or frames. Aside from the lost family stories, there is a loss of the local history in these images – how people dressed and how places looked before. Very disheartening for those who appreciate the past.

    • chmjr2 says:

      You are so right too much is being lost. The best we can do is to take steps that will help keep our family items from being lost. Thanks for reading my post and your comments.

  23. joannhubert says:

    WOW! That is just amazing….and sad, Everyone has a story to tell and it makes you wonder what the story really not only of the people but how they ended up with their memento’s discarded. Thank you for raising awareness of this, You have certainly opened my eyes. I knew it happened but not to this extent. Great blog!

  24. joannhubert says:

    opps I should have said what the story really *was* .

  25. Debi Walter says:

    I had and aunt and uncle who didn’t have any children. When they both passed away I had tons of pictures of people I didn’t know. But it was still hard to part with them. However, I kept their beautiful wedding photo–it’s hanging on my family picture wall. I loved this post because I’ve often felt the same way when browsing through an antique or thrift store. So sad to see so many stories of family history lost forever.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for your comment. I am glad that you have your aunt and uncle’s wedding picture. But am sorry for all the photographs that you didn’t know. As I tell everyone make sure your pictures are labeled so in the future people will know who they are.

  26. This pulked at my heart. I too am amazed at the lack of concetn that some show family heirlooms. To me anything touched or owned by an ancestor has intrinsic value.

  27. This pulled at my heart. I too am amazed at the lack of concetn that some show family heirlooms. To me anything touched or owned by an ancestor has intrinsic value.

  28. First, thank you for visiting my blog!!! I know my posts do not all fit into your area of interest, so I am so pleased that you continue to visit. Second, I want to tell you that a number of years ago, while ‘antiquing’ in an area near where my mother had lived most of her life, I actually found two snapshots of her when she was a teenager. She passed away when I was five, so you can imagine the joy in the amazing find.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Wow! What great luck you had. You have a great post and I enjoy it very much. After all everyone has more than one interest. If not how boring life would be.

  29. Admin says:

    I have nominated you for a Liebster Award to help new blogs get circulated a bit more – please do check out my post where I have nominated you! http://journalofaninvisiblegirl.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/what-wonderful-wednesday-things-are-happening-here/

    • chmjr2 says:

      I thank you so much. It is enough for me that you think I should be read by more people. When people such as you read and comment on my post I know I must be doing something right. I hope that both of us are blogging for a long time.

  30. Congrats on the Liebster Award ! You are so popular already because of your unique and helpful style! You are a voice we all need and like– so glad to have met you! Helen

  31. Miss y our work! come back!

  32. PrairieChat says:

    I’ve always felt the touch of sadness when I’ve happened across discarded family photos. I’ve had the same feeling when I’ve heard stories of an unattended funeral. It’s heartbreaking when no one is left to care. So many family stories lost forever, so many nighttime dreams untold.

  33. gpcox says:

    Can we expect a new post this month?

  34. Sheryl says:

    I wonder why someone made the decision to get rid of the pictures. Amongst the old pictures that I have, the group that I struggle the most with when trying to figure what to do with them, are pictures that I received years ago in Christmas cards. Often there are no names on the pictures–and I may have never met the children in the picture (for example, if the card was sent by a college friend).

    • chmjr2 says:

      I have had the same thoughts. I am currently working on a group of World War Two letters That I bought at auction. Have no idea why they ended up in a auction. I will blog about them soon as I have a few more loose ends to try and finish off. I would have been so proud if they had been my ancestors.

  35. Every family needs an appointed historian so that pictures are both labeled and preserved for future generations!

  36. Thought of your post the other day when I was in a thrift store and came upon a 6-inch thick, well-cared-for album with absolutely gorgeous B&W family photos, many dating back to 1800s/early 1900s. Lots of group shots; people of all ages. Wonderful outfits. From some handwriting, it looked like it was a Hungarian family. How something as stunning as that could end up at a thrift store I will never understand. I did not have the $75 cash to buy it; when I went back the next day to get it (thought I could do something to track down a relative), it was gone. Hopefully someone else bought it to try to find a family member. It really was a magnificent album. If I came upon something like with images of my ancestors, I would feel like I won the lottery.

    • I’ve been trying to mark many of our millions of pictures lately, and using a lot of them for my blog is motivating me to do that. it also makes me feel mildly depressed, because I don’t see who will want them, or even want to store them when I am gone. Oh I know there will be someone in the future, there always is, but who that person might be who has a burning desire to explore famiy history is impossible to identify at this stage in the game. So, i’m wondering what will happen to the albbums and all I’ve developed. One good reason to put stories and photos on ancestry.com or blogs like this, is that perhaps a far distant relative will discover them one day using a search engine! The albums may be a thing of the past–sad but true!

    • chmjr2 says:

      Now that you are aware of these family heirlooms around you, I bet you will see more and more. I agree with you I would feel like winning the lottery if I found my ancestors.

  37. EmilyAnn Frances says:

    It is indeed sad but a sign that those who discarded these are not thinking in the same manner as family historians and genealogists. They are completely immersed in the present time and what’s passed is over and of no use. I do not understand those thoughts or emotions. How could someone trash a keepsake of a beloved family member??

    I have no children so if someone among the children of my cousins or my late Mother’s cousins wants to become the custodian for the next generation they will get everything. Otherwise there are some Italian-American socieites that are interested in this kind of material. I might leave the family history, photos and documents to them. Another alternative is a local historical society since so much of my family’s history is tied to Brooklyn and I am trying to integrate the development of this borough into the background of our family history.

  38. larrytom2 says:

    Great post! Nothing I can add to what’s already been expressed above but I totally agree. I’m trying to digitize and organize all the photos in the family and my mom and sister are helping identify people but even they cannot id everyone and no one else is left who can help.

  39. Jay Ell says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog recently.
    One way in which some of these personal memories and mementos get ‘lost’ to the families they belong to is through house clearances, where relatives do not live near to the deceased when a house is put up for sale. I experienced this myself when I moved into my current house and the old gentleman who lived there previously had died and his children, who lived many miles away, organised for a specialist house clearance firm to clear the house prior to sale. To the people clearing the house they have no historical value and are just disposed of. Sad in its way.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Yes I agree it happens that way very often. But in talking with the people that clean out the houses they say that pictures and family papers are offered but often refused. For an account of this read my first blog “Left behind family history.”

  40. jbgreenlaw says:

    Great post! I started blogging for this very reason; I didn’t want my family heirlooms to be lost without their history. All people cannot afford to loose their heritage! Thank you for sounding the alarm.

  41. nancymn says:

    Thanks for the Like on my blog. And very sad about lost family history. My uncle tossed a lot of our family history into the trash when my grandmother (his mother) moved out of her apartment. He just did not care and had no clue that the rest of the family did care, and might want to save those old photos. I was able to get some of them, but I cannot help but be heartbroken over what was lost.

  42. derelictmom says:

    Wow, this is exactly what has made the recent themes of my blog posts.. genealogy. My daughters great grandmother who is 105 gave her a picture album of the family with the family trees etc, and left room for me to fill in my side of the family. what an amazing gift, it has lead me down an interesting path to track down our family images and history and not have it lost to Father time or a flea market! this is sad. personal history can be lost in one generation.

  43. Deborah says:

    Thank you for taking the time to save those memories. Are you aware of the websites: http://www.familyoldphotos.com/index-az/a-z/a/pa-a.htm and http://www.donslist.net/PGHLookups/DirM.htm
    These are web site created to post yearbooks and other records (donslist) and to showcase lost photos for people to search. I love donslist, as I was able to find my Mom’s yearbook. She is deceased now, but used to tell us how bad she felt that she never was able to recover her yearbook.
    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I’m really new to this, and hope to continue posting.

  44. chmjr2 says:

    Thank you for the links. I will look them over.

  45. Aquila says:

    The magnitude of the loss of family pictures and other historical items is horrid. My mother’s family was pretty good about keeping and identifying different family members photos and a cousin has been busy for years doing that family line. That cousin also has most of the original photos, they have had reproductions sent to those who wanted them. My father’s family had few photos and most were lost years before I got going on genealogy. I do treasure what i have and am trying to find a cousin on my father’s side to take what is there.
    We had a neighbor die about 25 years ago, the family descended, emptied the house in 2 days and dumped every photo, album, scrapbook, letter, or other item that might have been a priceless clue for a genealogist. It was pouring rain both days as each box was put on the curb to get destroyed with the wet.
    I am working a lot of different family lines with very little photographic evidence available. It would help so much to have letters, family Bibles, pictures, etc. It does help to get as much digitized as possible. I have all the existant photographs my ex-spouse left when they died, none of the family wanted them, all are scanned and I’m glad for the links Deborah provided, I will be checking those out as a possible home for those photos.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am enjoying yours.

  46. I have spent hours upon hours scanning owned and borrowed old family photos and documents, putting on CDs and sharing with family members so everyone has a record of our history. I do worry about the originals – they are priceless, but take up so much room that few people want the responsibility of keeping and storing them.

  47. Shamwest says:

    I get sad in the thrift shops when I see intricate handwork for .69 cents. Hours of work. Really old stitchery for next to nothing.

  48. gapark says:

    This is an important message and I plan to reblog it on Sunday when I get a break from the A-Z Challenge! The yearbooks could be donated to a library, maybe family eventually would look there. I agree, it is a shame and is a reminder to digitize or make copies of our heirloom photos and share them with family members.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you so much for considering rebloging my post. I am glad you find the message worth while. If you have time read my post Mail Call 1942. It shows what history is around us all the time. I thank you for reading my blog and your comments.

  49. Wonderful post! I recently found a photo in my grandmother’s box and wondered what happened to the person. I googled his name, and found a tree. It was a match which led me to new cousins and the opportunity to see an heirloom that was my ggg grandmother’s! It’s a fascinating story about survival of WWI, Nazi Germany, making it to Israel and my moving here too. Our families reunited because of a photo for the first time almost 100 years. Will blog about it in the near future.

  50. Hi Charles, I just had the most wonderful experience and it goes right along with what you’ve been blogging about lately–lost family history items! I gt an eamil on ancestry tht said this person writing had found a family document that had a lot of my family information in ti! Wow! He said he was cleaning out a neighbor’s atticafter she moved, at her request, and caae across it and tracked me down! Isn’t that a mazing! He is called an “heirloom archaelogist’! I don’t know much more, but can give you his email address and name if you’d like to have it. Write to me at helenholshouser@gmail.com.

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