There is a coffee shop in town which is perfectly situated for meeting friends, both old and new. In fact, if I am about to meet a stranger, there isn't a better location locally than that one, in my experience. With a pleasant and wide open outdoor seating area, the place has a constant flow of customers, coming to meet with each other.
I know from experience that, if I'm to have one of those potentially awkward first-meeting experiences, that is my go-to location. It was, for instance, the very spot I chose when, out of the blue as a new blogger ten years ago, I received an email from a genealogist in town who thought "nobody" lived in our city who'd be as rabid about genealogy as we both were. From a simple email and the meeting it led to, that "stranger" eventually became my genealogy guardian angel and mentor, "The Educated Genealogist."
I'd say that was a meeting of strangers worth encountering. There are some risks which are just worth reaching out to take, and I've found this particular spot in town to be so well suited to such occasions.
That's the place where I've since come to anticipate serendipitous first meetings, and yesterday was no exception. This time, the occasion was once again to meet a total stranger, but the back story was a bit different. Again, it was a contact made by someone reaching out to me—this time through the Ancestry.com messaging system. Again, it was a meeting of two people who speak the same language of family history research. And, heartwarmingly enough, it was someone who had been on the very same mission I've found myself on so many times before: delivering an orphaned photo back to family.
Though I haven't done so myself for a while, I have so often purchased abandoned pictures from antique stores as a challenge to return the treasure to a living descendant of the photo's subject. As inspiration for that mission, I can thank another mentor, the blogger who created Forgotten Old Photos. Every time I've followed in that blogger's footsteps, however, it wasn't with as altruistic an attitude; I've often thought, How I wish someone else would find one of my family's photographs and return it to me.
This week, consider that wish granted. Earlier this spring, I received a tentative message at Ancestry.com asking if a photo found might be related to someone in my family. It was. In fact, it was another picture snapped at the same birthday party as the photo I used to begin this series of posts eight years ago.
What's more—and this is the most encouraging part—the person who rescued the photo is an accomplished young student who has delved into family history as a self-directed project, pouring hours into research, simply because he wants to.
After I had spent time last week at the NGS Conference, hearing the desperate cry for young people to take up the banner in pursuit of preserving family history, what a heartening realization to meet face-to-face with proof that there are, indeed, young people out there who are already delving right in to that mission. Perhaps, rather than bemoan what we perceive to be a lack, we can reach out to those strangers we don't yet know, and let the commonality of our passion for preserving our family history turn those strangers into friends.