Monday, April 3, 2017

No Longer a Mystery

While Ireland was sleeping, I had sent the twenty-first century's equivalent of a message in a bottle. By the time I retired for the night—and while Ireland was just starting to awaken—someone five thousand miles from me was sending a message back.

It's been two weeks since I've mentioned anything about the family photograph album I had found in a northern California antique shop. Just because there's been no report doesn't mean I haven't had anything to report. On the contrary: a lot has transpired behind the scenes. This week, I'd like to share some updates.

As a recap, here's what led up to my last post on the subject on the nineteenth of March. From the time of my original entry introducing the photo album back at the end of December, I had posted the day-by-day journal of my suppositions about just who might have created the album and who the pictured family members might have been. My goal had been to determine the full identity of those included in the album, and then, using that information, to try and return the album to a living descendant of the family.

Since I had started out with only the first names of a handful of players, plus some other vague hints, it took me almost daily postings to talk through the problem. This went on from the beginning of January through the third week of February. By that point, with no further clues—or nibbles from any members of the mystery family, themselves—I decided to set the project aside.

If you know me, you know that had to be a difficult decision. I so wanted to see that project through to the end. I wasn't going to be satisfied until I could send that little photo album home to Ireland, to the family of the couple who originated it.

Of course, I couldn't even stand to abide my own decision. With Saint Patrick's Day coming up, my mind wandered back to that Irish album, and I decided to give the quest one more attempt. Only this time, I tried a different approach: crowdsource the solution.

I sent out a request for Facebook friends and Twitter followers to pass the word along, linking back to a post I wrote explaining this one last plea. Two days later, I already had a suggestion for a possible contact—someone who was likely a direct descendant of the couple who created the album. The very next day, after sending a message to that person online, I received confirmation that that was the right connection.

Since that time, we've exchanged a lot of emails. The real treat, though, was getting to talk with this descendant over the phone. Both of us are now working to piece together a fuller picture of the family tree. And that question of just how the album from the Reid family of County Cork, Ireland, showed up in California is a puzzle we are better suited to unravel as we work on this together.

Best yet is this descendant's willingness to share more of the Hawkes and Reid families' story, including some marvelous photographs. She's granted me permission to share with you some of the details from our conversations, and we'll begin with that in tomorrow's post.

I am still in awe over how modern social media, as well as online research capabilities, have facilitated allowing two total strangers to connect. In the past, this might have been as likely as finding a message in a cast-off bottle—and then being able to trace the message back to its originator. While the exercise, despite its twenty-first-century boost, is still not what you could call effortless, it is vastly more possible with today's connectivity than ever before.

Above: "Lost on the Grand Banks," 1885 oil on canvas by American landscape artist Winslow Homer; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Way to go! It was your determination and never give up attitude that brought this album home:)


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