When my grandmother passed in September 2000, I kept every bit of paper I could relating to her family history research. Her passing was devastating, to the point I packed up all her genealogy correspondence into a box, placed it in my closet, and didn't look at for the next three years as I built my journalism career.
When I changed course and secured a place in the library science graduate program at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, one of my classes was specifically centered on genealogical research as a library service. My mother mailed 'the book' to me, a hand typed, red covered book self-published by some of our cousins in Canada, which included not only our family tree but stories, pictures, and hand written notes my grandmother had tucked inside the pages. Revisiting them now, I'm careful not to touch them too much, because when I close my eyes, I'm ten years old again. I can feel her sitting across from me, and her her voice as she told family stories. I can taste sweet milk tea and molasses cookies. I'm in her kitchen, and everything in her house is just as I remember it.
When I returned from my studies abroad, I took a deep dive into more of the papers she left behind, and I discovered she was a keen reader of the 'Albion Recorder' from the college town of Albion, Michigan. The newspaper has been in existence by one name or another since 1904, and one of the segments which grandma clipped and kept in her collection were the 'Can You Identify the People in This Picture."
It was certainly a way to keep readers, especially folks over fifty, engaged with each edition as well as being of great service to the genealogical and historical record of the area. For a small and relatively rural area which didn't experience a lot of car crashes, train wrecks, or other catastrophes, these photos were a way to liven up the front page and secure responses from the readership.
Subscribers and the pubic were invited to send their information of who was in the photo, and their placement in each image. I don't know if grandma ever sent her information into the paper, but she certainly took great pains to write down what she knew and keep it in her own collection.
This is one of my favorites: a photo of the Hayes Wheel Company Baseball Team in circa 1914. My great-grandpa Frank Dudek is pictured in the lineup, and my grandma filled in the names of the other players to help someone like me share this image with other descendants.
"L to R - unknown, Frank E. Dudek, Chuck Warner, Billy Hopp, Melvin 'Pat' West, Fred Wing, Red Marlette, Decker, Elmer McClintock, Donn Woodliff, Riley Vroman, Bill Smith 'Mud' Hoyt, Robert Knoblock."
Even though I live far away from that small corner of Michigan, I make a point to reach out and contact people and organizations from the area to provide information and images I have in my collection. I do this with the hope we can continue to preserve the past, and to advance accessibility to information and resources other people will value now and in the future.
I would consider it a service for more local newspapers to dedicate a weekly 'Who's in this Photo?" area on their front page. We all could use this type of story right now, and it would be one way to capture the names of people who came before us from the folks who knew them best. We need this type of information gathering now before more names are lost to history.