Sending Photos Back Home

January 10, 2017

I spend a lot of time in antique stores, it's something Luke and I do for fun on the weekends (not something you hear often from 20-somethings). We're always on the hunt for cool finds! I had never collected anything in particular until recently when I started a cabinet card/antique photo collection. I've always been drawn to these little pieces of the past, wondering who the people in the photo were and what their lives must have been like. It's rare that the photos are labeled with names, most of them are blank with forever anonymous faces staring back out at you. 

A couple of weeks ago Luke and I were at one of our favorite antique stores, the Antique Marketplace in Downtown Hammonton, New Jersey. I had never found old photos there before, but Luke spotted a box with a bunch them so I stood there for a while looking through them all. I found a few that were labeled with names that grabbed my attention. Someone long ago had carefully labeled the names of her aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents on these turn of the century photos. They were of the Keith family who lived in Vineland, New Jersey in the late 1800s through the early/mid 1900s. A little idea hit me, so I bought three of them and took them home to research. After a quick search on Ancestry, I was able to find a living relative of this family who had passed such a long time ago. I decided to reach out thinking it was a long shot and it's likely the person would think I'm a scammer or a stalker, but maybe this person would like to know what some of their ancestors looked like. That's when I connected with Paula! She lives in Georgia, and she was pleasantly surprised by my message. I sent her some pictures of the photos I purchased and she expressed to me that she'd like to have them, so off they went! I went back to the same antique store the following weekend and bought the rest of them, nine more in total. Paula is absolutely thrilled to have these photos returned to her family, and I'm so happy I was able to find her and send them her way. 

I've grown oddly attached to this little family. Amasa Keith (pictured with the big mustache), the head of the family, was married to Henrietta Wells. They came to Vineland from New York along with their six children, four of which made it to adulthood. Amasa was a shoe shop clerk, a grocery store clerk, and a book keeper at a bank in his later years. He had three beautiful daughters named Minnie, Joanna, and Florence. The girls are in most of the photos, all very well dressed. I can't get over the fashion of these days! I believe that Minnie was the only one of the children that didn't marry, I found her on 30 years worth of census records working and living with a family as their servant. Florence lived the longest out of everyone, she passed away in 1968 at 88 years old. Most of the family is buried here in New Jersey. 

Paula's most recent message to me was so kind, she said "you probably don't even know how special the acts of kindness that you display are, keep being who you are because it's people like you that shape the world into a better place, one act at a time." How sweet is that?! I didn't go into this expecting anything. I wasn't even sure I'd get a response, but I'm glad I was able to do a good little deed for someone purely because if the roles were flipped, I would want someone to do the same for me. Whenever I go antiquing from now on I'm going to keep an eye out for more photos with names written on them. Hopefully I'll be able to reunite more people with these long lost treasures.