Saturday, December 18, 2021

A Season for Giving Back


The winter holidays come with a call for giving. Whether Hanukkah or Christmas, there is a sense of gratefulness and a willingness to give. This year, for me, is also a year to remember that this is not just about gifts, but about giving back for all that others have given me through the years.

Most of us, when genealogy newbies, can recall how someone else helped us learn not only how to search, but where to find all the hidden resources. When we turn around, years later, and help someone else, we do it remembering how others were there for us when we got started.

One way I've found to give back to others is to rescue abandoned family photographs and return them to a descendant of the picture's subject. How ironic that it turned out that someone found a photo collection once belonging to someone in my family and sent it to me. Now, I'm finding pictures in that collection which actually belong to another family—whose family, I've yet to discover.

One of the pictures tucked away in Marilyn Sowle Bean's collection was a Christmas postcard from someone in boot camp with the United States Marine Corps. To the young man's photo, someone added a handwritten note: "Peter Danisanakes—Boot Camp."


Who that Peter might have been, I have no clue. Likely a family friend. This is a perfect example of how we find, in family photo collections passed down to us, relics of the F.A.N. Club of our ancestors. I can't help but think that, just as I'd love to receive a picture of one of my ancestors, someone out there—though who, and where, I don't yet know—would love to have this photo for their own collection.

I tried my hand at locating any identifying information on this Peter. Since Marilyn's family had been in southern California since she was a toddler—not to mention her husband's family, which had been in the state for generations—I presumed this Peter might have been a friend of either family, so I took a look at what I could find.

Since Peter's surname was a bit hard to decipher—was it Danisanakes?—I tried searching by various spelling variations. The closest hit I got on was an entry in a 1907 city directory—much too early a year—for a J. P. Danisankes, a fruit and vegetables vendor in Oakland, California. 

Flipping the card over to read the note on the reverse didn't help. Or maybe it did. In writing definitely not Marilyn's hand, the note read:

Bufflo Bill's Riding Academy
Colma, Calif.
(South San Francisco)
No phone
(out in the vegetable Gardens)
go out 19th Ave.  

Whether this Peter was a relative of the vegetable vendor in Oakland, I can't be sure. The spelling of the surname is different. But the odd insertion of the hint, "out in the vegetable gardens," sure made it sound more likely. The more I thought about it, the more I was inclined to think the note was written by Marilyn's husband's uncle—Bill Bean, the car dealership owner. The handwriting seemed similar, and I've seen other pictures in Bill's own collection with the reverse of the picture seemingly used as scratch paper to note business details. Most important detail: the Bean family was centered in the Oakland and Alameda County area of northern California.

When I think of all the pictures people send out to their friends over the years—high school or college graduation photos of the kids, holiday cards with the family posing, engagement announcements—I begin to realize how many of us could help others reconnect with images of their long-gone family members. They may not have a copy of those photos now, but we might. All it takes is a way to connect: to let others know what we have, and a willingness to take the step to get in touch.

More than ever, with the Internet, this is possible. We'll see whether it will happen for this photo of young Marine Peter Danisanakes.  


  1. I received a different sort of xmas greeting this year. It is a photograph taken 23 years ago that Larry turned into a post card with xmas greetings and notes.... that is one way to get rid of all the so so awful snaps my instagram took.


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