Saturday, April 20, 2013

A minor miracle on eBay

Last Monday I received an envelope from a seller on eBay.  I was going to write about the contents, but the Boston Marathon Bombing happened, and other things got in the way, so this post got shoved to the side.

Anyway, the envelope contained two Carte d'Viste photographs, each from its own auction, and each unmarked save for the name of the photographer.  The seller used the headline "CDV of Pretty lady from Ohio" on one of the pictures, and the other said "CDV of lady in stripe dress from Ohio".

Sellers do this all the time.  There have to be millions of images of forgotten people floating around the world and they turned up in antique malls, ephemera sales and online auctions. As was the case with these, only the name of the photographer and the town were marked on the backs of these.  So they sell them as "pretty lady" or "handsome man" or "instant ancestor" and hope that collector of pictures, or local history, or even someone desperate for a pedigree will place a bid.

So about fourteen days ago I was cruising through eBay while sitting in an Eat n' Park in Wheeling West Virginia when two sales got my attention real fast.  I always scan the site for anything having to do with my home town - genealogy and history is me - when "CDV of lady in stripe dress from Ohio" not only caught my eye, but also grabbed my attention, and only because I have the same picture, with my grandmother's handwriting.

The woman in the striped dress was my grandmother's maternal grandmother, Rebecca.

Now the Husband has often said that if anyone finds a family picture on eBay, it would be me.  Well, this proved him right.

Now, I know where ever descendant of this woman is, and that includes the ones that my mother claims she didn't know about and that includes her children from her first marriage. I know this because I spent twenty years looking for her date of death and place of burial.  My grandmother died when I was ten, so I couldn't ask her, and my mother, who I adored was a bit of narcissist - if she hadn't known someone, they didn't exist.  And remember, she was the one who wanted into the DAR because they served delicious cookies and hot coffee.

Anyway, twenty years is a long time to stalk a dead woman, but I eventually found her death certificate in the correct state, found her death notice and found her unmarked grave.  And no one deserves that fate. So then, according to the Prosecutor back home, to get her name and dates on the marker I had to track down every known descendant and get them to agree to it, which I did.  And the marker got carved, and she was no longer lost to time.

What I had learned about her was that she married twice, once to man who used her to raise his children from his first two marriages, do his laundry, have two more children and when he abandoned her he took their oldest boy who never saw his mother or brother again.  Without a penny, she was awarded a divorce in 1865.  She was poor and divorced with a son to raise.  So she married my great great grandfather, a man who beat her, breed her and abused her son from her first marriage, making him sleep in the barn year round.   And when the bastard died, he left no means of support for her.

So she did what any woman would do with eight mouths to feed in Ohio in 1890 - she married her daughter off into a good family to a man twice her age.  Luckily for everyone, my great grandfather adored my great grandmother, and he took care of her family as it was his own.

After I got over my chill, I checked the seller for another family picture, and found "pretty lady with a somber look" was my great grandfather's (see paragraph above) step-mother Amanda.  This was a picture that I didn't have, but but a third cousin did have, so I knew for sure who it was.

I bid on both and held my breath.  Both images sold for under $5.00 dollars and the seller combined shipping.  They arrived on Monday afternoon.

Amanda, my maternal grandmother's paternal step grandmother on the left and
Rebecca, my maternal grandmother's maternal grandmother on the right.

Seller told me that he got them as part of a box at an estate sale in South Carolina, but that these were the only ones from all of Ohio.  Because I know the entire genealogy, I'm pretty sure who's auction that these came from - a second cousin (Pam) who got involved in a snake handling preacher and wouldn't talk to any sinners in the family unless they came to her husband to be baptized.  

"Fat chance of that," said my mother the year before Mom passed away.

"She threw her Marcella's ashes (Mom's only first cousin, and Pam's mother) in the trash, and told her sister that she had scattered them.  I told her that was illegal, and do you know what she said to me? 'Only if you get caught.'  I wouldn't let her use my toilet if it was the last powder room on earth."

Seems that Pam's daughters followed in their mother's footsteps and also threw these two pieces of their heritage away.  Here's hoping karma gets them.

And gratefully, a higher power has appointed me to find their toss outs and restore them to family - it was my personal miracle for April.  Lets just hope that I don't find Cousin Marcella's ashes, or worse, have them make me sneeze.

If its all the same to you Lord, let's just stick with the pictures.


  1. I've always wondered whether people ever come across long lost family photos like that, so I'm delighted to know you have. I have a sentimental fondness for old photos, especially from the days when photography was still comparatively new and "having your picture made" was an event. It seems awfully callous to throw them away, especially as someone might only have a handful of photos taken in their lifetime. Being reunited with your great great-grandmother's portrait is a welcome nod to a sort of symmetry I find strangely comforting and reassuring.

    1. After the week that was, writing about it was very comforting.

  2. abso-fucking-lutely amazing cookie. wow.

  3. Wow, all the places they must have been displayed, kept, stored and been...

    And they end up in your hands?


  4. This boggles the mind, Cookie.

    I'm glad they ended up back in good hands.

    Coincidentally, I was looking at some old photos I'd picked up at yard sales over the years for a song. Perhaps I should put them on eBay with the hopes they'll be reunited with their families.

    1. There's a web site that someone tried starting up that posted unknown photos in hopes family members would find them.

      The two great hurdles at getting pictures like this back into family hands is 1)Someone has to know who these people are and 2) they have to be in the right place at the right time.

      I worry about our family photos. I've tried to share the genealogy with people in he family, but they aren't interested. Or they want me to print off the charts and then save them for their children in case they are interested. I can do that, but without context, their just names on a chart.

  5. Perfectly marvelous. The care and keeping of family photographs is, I'm afraid, yet another area in which the Family Muscato continues to break new ground in Pointless Family Conflict. I'm treasuring the few I've got, as there have been rumors of the Evil Stepmother having consigned several boxes to the dustbin. Enjoy your treasures (but be sure to make a good scan if you plan to display them; they do fade unless gently kept. But isn't that true of all of us?)...

    1. Ahh, the evil stepmonster and family photos. It must be part of their evil stepmonster training.

      My Evil Step Monster tried to hide our family movies in a closet and keep us from getting them. My one brother had to distract her while I rooted around. We found them. She cursed us for going into her closet, but when we told my father we found them she stood there crowing "Such treasurers!".

  6. Love this story! So glad you found them cookie!