This teacher buys old photos of strangers at flea markets, then finds their relatives to return them

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She signed it, “Warmly, ‘The angel in the picture.‘”

Over the past several months, Kelley, a specialism teacher who lives in Attleboro, has been to antique stores and flea markets in the area and purchased lots of decades-old images that have been put on display. next to. and forgot. In her spare time, she then scrubs genealogy sites looking for relatives or descendants of the people in the photos, hoping she can reunite them with photographs of their extended family.

“It’s heartbreaking to see pictures of someone’s relatives [for sale]”Kelley said.” It became my mission to save them and give them back. “

Kate Kelley chronicled her efforts on a Facebook page titled “The Photo Angel,” a nickname given to her by an impressed commentator.DebeeTlumacki

Kelley’s journey to reconnect families with vintage photographs began in April, when she discovered photos of people who weren’t family mixed with old family photos of her grandparents.

“Family friends, war buddies, just unrelated people,” said Kelley, 43. “Then I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to receive these photos in the mail?

Determined to return them to their rightful owners, she jumped on Ancestry.com and FindAGrave.com to locate relatives, based on the names and other information scribbled on the back.

She immediately found matches. As she made more connections, Kelley became fascinated by the possibilities. She remembered seeing boxes of old pictures left behind in antique stores and flea markets, and decided to buy some in hopes of expanding her project.

While Kelley’s hobby is new, her fascination with genealogy is for life. As a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, she has long been in love with family stories.

“My interest in genealogy is definitely deep. It has always been my passion, ”she said. “[This project is] all the things I love: it’s genealogy, it’s research, it’s meeting new people – all of that. And that’s the thrill of the hunt.

Kelley primarily turns to Ancestry.com and its 3 million paying subscribers for her detective work. Users on the site can build their family trees and add names and information to their lineage, making it easy for Kelley to locate names in photographs to people with accounts.

When she gets a match, she sends a direct message to the person, explaining what she has found and the purpose of her project. Sometimes the person is not at all interested. But most genealogy enthusiasts are thrilled.

“Most people are very, very grateful and excited,” said Kelley, who only buys photographs with names and places written on the back.

In May, Adam Jurewich decided to return to his Ancestry.com account for the first time in some time to add information from his father’s side to his digital family tree. Uploading photos his father had recently given him, Jurewich received a message from Kelley, who had found a photo of Jurewich’s grandfather and grandmother while searching an antique store in North Attleborough.

The photo was taken in the Berkshires in 1945. Jurewich’s grandparents were visiting a seminary where his great-uncle was studying to be a Jesuit priest. In the photo, Jurewich’s grandmother – who died in 2005 – was eight weeks pregnant with her father.

“It’s just amazing that she was able to find this and give it back to my family,” said Jurewich, 38, who lives in Antrim, New Hampshire. “She puts pieces of history together, which I think is just great.”

The photo was the ‘missing link’ between two other photos Jurewich had of his grandparents, including one that shows his grandfather wearing the same sports coat he wore in the photo Kelley gave him.

Jurewich is not sure how the photo ended up in the store where Kelley bought it. But it’s a “strange cosmic coincidence” that Kelley reached out to her. fair sifting through old family photos, he said.

“I am so grateful for what she is doing,” he said.

So far, Kelley has sent around 100 black and white images to people across the country. She also sent a few to Canada and the UK. The earliest photo returned to someone was from the 1880s.

While Kate Kelley's hobby is new, her fascination with genealogy has endured forever.
While Kate Kelley’s hobby is new, her fascination with genealogy has endured forever.DebeeTlumacki

Her home office is filled with piles of old pictures, while waiting to be separated into folders marked “photos”, “challenges” and “to send by mail”. There is also a stack called “waiting for a response”.

Kelley spends about three hours a night looking for relationships, but expects to spend more time on it now than it’s summer vacation.

“I’m so excited because the timing is absolutely perfect,” said Kelley. “It’s time to really focus on this. “

Kelley chronicled her efforts on a Facebook page entitled “The angel of the photo” a nickname given to him by an impressed commentator. There are over 500 people in the group and members are encouraged to go hunting.

If Kelley finds herself in a bind on Ancestry.com, she sometimes turns to private Facebook groups for residents of various towns and villages, to see if anyone within those groups might know the people pictured. She did so during a recent search for the descendants of William C. Allan, deputy sheriff of Warren County, Pennsylvania, in 1884, after purchasing a photo of Allan from an antique store in Rhode Island.

So far, she has not solved this case. But she sent a digital version of the image to the current deputy county chief. in the hope of a lead.

Those who meet Kelley, or who follow her quest on Facebook are often amazed that she finds the time to do so. and does not charge any fees for its service or photos.

She always has a simple answer: “Then it would be business, not kindness.”


Steve Annear can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @steveannear.

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