Sunday, January 1, 2012

More Orphan Heirlooms Have Gone Home

A friend of mine bought a box of papers at an estate sale and found two copies of a boy's birth registration (one from the city, one from the hospital in which he was born) and a bar mitzvah photo of the same boy.  She is Jewish also and felt obligated to return the items to the family if possible, so she called and asked if I could help.  The research involved relatively recent records -- this person was born in 1947 -- so I wasn't sure what I would be able to find.  Luckily not everything has been locked up due to politicians' oversimplistic and misguided attempts to curb identify theft, and I was able to verify that he had indeed been born in California, as the birth registrations said.  A little more searching and I discovered a photo of him online.  Someone had posted a positive Yelp-type review of him for his job in San Francisco.  It was the same person as the bar mitzvah boy in the photo; the resemblance was unmistakable.  I called the company, and he still works there.  I've mailed the birth records and photo to him.

I'm not entirely sure why I feel so sad when photographs and documents have been left behind in estate sales and the like.  In part it's because to me they represent the stories of people's lives, and once they are set adrift they no longer have the same context.  But if absolutely no one in the family wants the items, perhaps they could be donated to a genealogical or historical society.  There they can be appreciated and remembered as artifacts of lives that have been lived.  They can be catalogued and available to people researching those families.  They don't become generic nameless people with no histories.


  1. Janice, I agree. Most end up in the trash. The gentleman has acquired a treasure.

  2. We're not the only ones who think that way, Linda. The same topic just came up in this month's issue of the LostCousins newsletter, which primarily deals with British research. Go to and read the story "Wedding ring found on carrot."

  3. Janice, How wonderful that you were able to find the man in the photo! Many times people forget that photos are not just something from the past to be discarded once the owners are gone. Photos are of real people who lived real lives, as you say, just in a different period of history. The value to us is immeasurable and still one of the best ways to experience "time travel" that we have. Bravo to you!


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