Lost Bible Update

A few months ago, I posted a story about how a bible given to my 13-year-old aunt Margaret in 1919 was lost for decades but recently returned to our family. You can read that post here.  It’s an amazing tale of Internet serendipity and the kindness of strangers who helped reunite the little bible with my family.

Douay BibleDouay Bible 2

My aunt died in 1985 and had one child, Claire Brown. My plan was to find Claire and return her mother’s childhood bible. But there was a problem. I had no idea how to get in touch with her.

I lost contact with Claire after I moved from New Jersey to California over 40 years ago. But thanks to an Internet search that began with the U.S. Public Records on FamilySearch.org, I soon found a Claire Brown of her approximate age who once lived in Brooklyn and Florida.

Most of the info on Claire was relatively old, so I began plowing through the many online websites that, for a fee, can find addresses and phone numbers for nearly anyone anywhere. Somehow, and consistent with every other stroke of luck in this story, I stumbled upon a website that happened to have a current–and free–phone number for a Claire Brown I thought might be my cousin.

I called the number and hoped for the best. I shouldn’t have worried, not with this bible’s lucky streak. The woman who answered the phone was, indeed, my cousin Claire. Our long overdue family reunion was underway.

I told her the story of the little bible’s remarkable odyssey and that I wanted to send it to her, which I did. She received it last week. The circle is complete.

Claire was extremely grateful to receive her mother’s bible but completely unaware that it existed, which made its return even more amazing. She still finds it hard to believe, as do I, the chain of events that resulted in the return of her mother’s bible. Take away one element of this serendipitous tale and my aunt Margaret’s bible is never found, its story forever a mystery.

As for how the bible came to be lost all these years, my aunt probably left it at my grandmother’s house when she married and moved to Brooklyn in the 1930s. It likely stayed there undisturbed for decades and was lost when the house was sold in 1977. But there is no danger of the little book wandering off again. Claire says she plans to keep it prominently displayed on the nightstand next to her bed.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with Claire over the last few weeks. 40-plus years apart makes for a lot of catching up. She stays in touch with two other cousins I had lost contact with, so there’s the added benefit of reconnecting with them. All thanks to a 94-year-old little holy book and its profound effect on a family that didn’t know it was lost until it was found.




On Location With Your Favorite Family Photos

At the dawn of photography, only professionals took pictures.  But with the arrival of simple point and shoot cameras early in the 20th century, amateur photographers soon outnumbered professional picture-takers.  For over a century, they have filled albums, shoe boxes and, more recently, hard drives with millions of Kodak Moments, cherished snapshots of birthdays, holidays, weddings, graduations and other special times in their lives.

All these family photos contain a subject and a location.  The featured subject is usually a parent or grandparent, a child, a friend, the family cat or dog, but always some person, thing or event we care enough about to capture for posterity.  But what about the location?

Take the poll below and let us know the favorite location of your family’s Kodak Moments.


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 bill@wikiHomePages.com.
I’ll start a HomePage for the address on wikiHomePages.com 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 wikiHomePages.com, 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 MissingMoney.com, 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.

A House By Any Other Name

I recently came across an article about a fascinating Nashville house built in 1821 that’s still a vibrant, functioning part of the city.  This grand old mansion got its name from the many rose bushes that covered the grounds.

Betsy Phillips writes about how Rose Hill has changed over the years and provides us with an in-depth look at its illustrious past, cast of memorable residents and why it’s important to preserve Rose Hill and other useful old structures that contribute so much history to an area’s culture.

Many homes are like Rose Hill. Bigger than life places that demand their very own name.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.  Mary Pickford’s Pickfair.  Washington’s Mount Vernon.  Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion.  Jefferson’s Monticello.  And of course, The White House.

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in New Jersey and my house didn’t have a special name.  It was home, and that was good enough for me.  But just because we didn’t name our homes in my family doesn’t mean we saw them as just buildings.  They were far more than that.  Life happened under those roofs.  Good, great things, as well as some not so good that are better forgotten or, thankfully, dimming with age.

While our family homes didn’t have names, they were specific in a generic sort of way.  My mother’s side of the family always referred to my grandparents’ house on John Street as The House as in, “We’re having dinner tomorrow at The House.”  Never “Grandmom’s house,” but always, simply “The House.”  Capital T, capital H.  No further description necessary.  I knew where I’d be having dinner tomorrow.

It was the exact opposite a few blocks away at my other grandmother’s house.  I don’t recall my father ever referring to his mother’s house on 2nd Street as “The House.”  It was always “Grandmom’s house” as in, “The porch steps at Grandmom’s house need a new coat of paint.”  Had he called it “The House” I would assume he meant I’d be painting the steps at The House on John Street.

If your family home had a name, what was it?  Who named it and why?  And was it unique to your family, or did the property inherit it from a previous resident?