In Plain Sight

Having hundreds, even thousands, of old family photos can be a mixed blessing.  Sure, you’re thankful that relatives–many of them now gone–thought ahead to preserve on film that Thanksgiving dinner at your great-grandmother’s house in 1943 or your first steps in your backyard in 1979.  And even if you haven’t looked at them in years, you know right where all your priceless memories are.  Unfortunately, where they are is likely a dark, dank, out of sight, out of mind kind of place.  And packed inside each tattered box of neglected photos is also a ton of guilt.

Organizing and preserving your family treasures can be overwhelming.  You know they deserve better and vow to get to them someday.  But when it comes to your ever-fading photos, over the years you’ve gone from being a garden variety, well-intentioned, amateur procrastinator to a top of the line, well-intentioned, professional procrastinator.  You don’t just put it off forever, but forever and a day.

If that sounds like you, I have a solution, or more like the start of a solution.  Here’s what you do.  I want you to go to that closet, storage room, attic or wherever else your old photos are entombed.  Throw open the door, drag the boxes out into the light and place them in a well-traveled area, such as your living room or family room, someplace you’re sure to see them every day.

The next step is to open a box of pictures and pull out a handful of pictures.  What we’re looking for is a photo taken in or around one of your family’s homes.  Do you recognize the people in the picture?  Can you recall or find out the address of the home?  How about the approximate year the snapshot was taken?  If the answer to all three questions is yes, the hunt is over for now.  There’s no pressure to organize your collection all in one day.  Close up the box and put it aside.

Write down a few sentences about the home in general.  Who owned it.  Some of the events that took place there.  Your memories of the home and its residents.  Add a separate couple of lines about what we see in that specific picture and note the approximate year it was taken.  Next, either scan or take a digital photo of the picture and email the jpg and your written descriptions to me at
I’ll start a HomePage for the address on and post it on our map.  In the future, you can go directly to the website and add additional photos and captions for that address.

And what about those boxes of photos?  I want you to leave them right where they are, sitting in plain sight. The entire dynamic has changed. You’re no longer guilty of ignoring your treasured photos. Gone are the days when you would put your head down and walk swiftly past them.  You’re actually doing something now.  Even if it’s just one picture at a time.

Once you see the history of the home preserved online, I’m betting that what was once a chore will become more of a willing work in progress where you find the time to sift through other photos from the address, or another home you once lived in.  And flush with your success locating and sorting the pictures of your homes, don’t be surprised if you can’t wait to begin organizing the rest of your family photos.  Remember, no task is too big when you break it down to bite-sized pieces.

Unclaimed Property

Researching and preserving my family’s history is very rewarding, in a personal sort of way.  What I didn’t count on, but was delighted to discover, was that my reward would also come in the form of dollars and cents.

1974 was a very busy time for my wife and me.  We began the year living in an apartment near Western Ave. and Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles.  By April, we had moved into our first house, a two-bedroom, one-bath, stucco home in the San Fernando Valley.

The house had an addition on the back, hardwood floors, plus a big yard and a pool, which made it one of the more expensive homes on the block.  The price: $27, 500. Seriously.

Finding the house, searching for a lender, scraping together the down payment, meeting with realtors, signing papers and shopping for new furniture, all combined to make the spring of 1974 one big, blurry whirlwind.

Fast forward to 2010.  That’s when I began work on, a website where people upload and post photos and stories of houses and apartments they or their family once called home.  As part of my research, I sorted through photos I had taken in and around my former homes and any papers I had saved pertaining to those addresses.

Seeing those street names and numbers again after so many years got me thinking.  I had heard stories about unclaimed property—money left behind in bank accounts and other abandoned financial assets—that sometimes get lost when people move.  I felt it was a long shot, but I decided to check it out.

My first stop was, a website that handles free unclaimed property searches for a number of states. I scrolled through a long list of people with my same name, but none of my old street addresses showed up.

California maintains its own website for lost property searches and claims.  I entered my name again and began scrolling through a list of L.A. addresses, convinced I was wasting my time.

Finding money is the kind of thing that happens to other people, not me.  And even if I did have cash due me, it would probably amount to one or two cents gathering dust in a long dormant checking account. So, imagine my surprise when up pops my old apartment address on Harvard Blvd.  An even bigger surprise was the amount due me: $284.40.

My “found money” was from an insurance policy that I cancelled early in 1974 while living at the apartment.  I recall being told by the insurance company that the policy had some cash value, but I didn’t expect it to amount to much.

Somehow the check was never forwarded when we moved to our new house.  There was so much else going on that year, that I simply forgot about it.

The next step to get the money took some time.  I had to fill out a lot of paperwork to prove my identity to the state of California and waited over 3 months for the check to arrive.  It took 36 years to bring me and my money together, but I’m not complaining.  Better late than never.

The total value of unclaimed property held by the states is estimated at over $32 billion.  If you’ve moved often, it’s well worth your time and effort to do an online search to find out if any of that money belongs to you.  And here’s something else to think about.  Unclaimed property is held forever.  As in Until The End of Time.  If you discover property belonging to a deceased relative—even one who died many years ago—and can prove you’re a rightful heir, you too could have a check headed your way.  Just remember to provide the state with your correct mailing address.  Especially if you’re in the process of moving and don’t want to wait decades for the check to catch up with you.