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Old Photos

A woman sitting next me at a genealogy meeting earlier this week told me about a family photo album she acquired recently. It had been for sale on eBay.

She recognized it because she had seen it in person, years ago. Its owners no longer wanted it but did not make the effort to offer it to other family members. Instead, they posted it for sale online. Genealogists cringe at this behavior.

I had my own experience this month with family photos belonging to another. My mother’s cousin on her Finnish side inherited their grandmother’s photo album.

It contained many images of relatives in Finland, all taken a hundred years ago and more. None had labels.

A few years ago, this cousin visited me and brought along the album. She had no idea who the photo subjects could be, and she asked me for help in identifying them. It saddened both of us that I recognized no one although I could see a strong family resemblance to my Finnish grandmother.

The cousin took her album home again, and that was that. She died a couple of years later. I assumed the album passed down to her son. I did not pursue the idea of acquiring a copy of the unfamiliar contents.

Last fall a couple of our more distant cousins in Finland contacted me. We began exchanging family information, and they asked about family photos. I mentioned the cousin’s album.

They wondered whether I could get my hands on it. Perhaps they could identify some of the people.

Their interest encouraged me. I contacted the cousin’s widower and explained that I may have discovered a way to add some value to her album. I asked for scanned copies of the photos to share with our Finnish cousins.

He replied that he had no interest in keeping these pictures. Nor did his son. He would send me the originals.

The photos arrived in the mail a few days later. My husband/tech advisor has scanned them all.

I will e-mail them to my Finnish cousins to see if they recognize anyone. When I visit them next time I am in Helsinki, I will take hard copies of those and some other family papers. We plan to meet at the new Oodi library in Helsinki to discuss our family history.

Without their encouragement, I may not have acted to preserve these photos. They, too, might have ended up on eBay or in the trash. Instead, I now have digital copies that I can share with all my Finnish-American cousins. With some luck, I may be able to tell them who some of the people are. I just wish my mom’s cousin was still around for this exciting opportunity.

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