Gone Forever? Subjects in nameless photos are lost in history

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By Tom Watson

If you have family pictures, but have never taken the time to identify them for future generations, you are doing the people in the photos, as well as their kin, a terrible injustice. Pictures without identifications are many times lost forever, erasing solid evidence that a family ever existed.


Here’s a suggestion that will pay dividends to your children, grandchildren and generations to come.

Let’s say someone in your family has several old pictures that you can’t identify. Grandma and grandpa probably know who they were, but the only way to be sure is to ask them.

Write the names of the people shown in each picture, the date the picture was made, birth dates and death dates and perhaps some other notes on the backs of the photos.

Don’t use a pen with heavy ink that would bleed through or a sharp pencil that will dig into the print, but a number two, soft lead pencil will work as will various other writing instruments. Just so the writing can be read is all that is necessary.

Writing information in albums next to pictures isn’t always a good idea because pictures are often removed from albums.

When I put pictures in frames, I also identify the subject matter by writing the identities, birth dates, death dates and other information on the back of the cardboard inserts.

It’s heart-wrenching to find unidentified pictures. You have to wonder why anyone would let photos remain nameless. In many cases, everyone in the family who could have identified photos has died, but why didn’t someone write down the names before that happened?

I was given what appeared to be pictures of related family members from Vernon, Kan., by White’s Auction of Bloomfield. They were given to me because the person who had them knows I will do everything I can to find a family member who wants them. There was no clue about any possible Kentucky connection with the families in the photos.

Many of the pictures have names written on them. There’s a copy of the 1892 marriage license of James J. Staton, 21, and Lavissa A. Vest, 16, both of Vernon, Kan. There’s a deed to a 1926 cemetery plot that cost $25 in Russell City, Kan. There are photos of people of various ages and with various spellings of Staton, including Statan and Staten.

You can surmise this was a family of farmers based on what the pictures showed.

My plan was to call the nearest historical society or library to see what I could learn about the Statons. I also thought about doing a genealogical search on the Internet and if that didn’t produce results, perhaps place an ad on eBay or some other Internet site, not to sell the photos, but to find their owner or owners.

After I showed the pictures to cousin Mary Ellen Marquess of Fairfield, she volunteered to seek the family and determine if they wanted the pictures.
It took a lot of time on the Internet, but Mary Ellen did it. She found the family in Texas and there was jubilation when she broke the news that the family pictures had been found. She shipped them to Texas, paying the expenses and not asking anything for her work. Way to go, cuz!

The mystery remains of how the family pictures from Texas found their way to Bloomfield, but they’re back where they belong.
And let’s wrap this one up with a poem found in the pictures. It was written by Dave Richards to his brother, Samuel Taylor Richards, of Bent County, Colo., in a 1970 Christmas letter:

What is a granddad?

A granddad has a special talent,
He knows just what to do.
To make his grandchildren happy,
And to show that he loves them too.
 He has his own favorite armchair,
For reading or taking a nap.
Or telling his wonderful stories,
To children who sit on his lap.
 At the family get-togethers,
He’s the first person to look for.
He can entertain small children for hours,
And they always keep asking for more.
You can tell when a granddad is teasing,
By the twinkle that shines in his eyes.
He’s an expert at settling problems,
For he’s loving and patient and wise.
 His grandchildren always admired him,
Even after they were grown.
They always felt proud and happy,
To claim granddad as their own.