Among the piles of odds and ends for sale at the New York City flea market, an old, dusty album with a luxurious leather caught the eye of heirloom hunter Chelsey Brown. A quick flip through the contents was enough to help Chelsey understand that she’d stumbled across a real historical treasure. The photos inside featured soldiers in uniform, children, and women in old-fashioned dresses, and the inscriptions clearly indicated the historical period in which the photos were taken: the American Civil War.
Chelsey purchased the album and got straight to work. Her goal, as with her many other flea market and attic finds, was to identify the original owners of the historical artifact, locate any living heirs or family members, and return the item to them. “The photos were so special, I felt that I had to return this piece of history to the family and that such an album should not be lost,” she says.
Researching the individuals in the album proved a difficult task, and she encountered many obstacles in her research. She contacted our Research team for help, and our team dove into the archives to see what they could find.
Inside the album, the names Maggie and Andrew Bayer were inscribed under some of the photos. Luckily for the researchers, a place name also appeared: Poughkeepsie, NY.
Who were the soldiers in the album, wearing the uniforms of the Union forces? It’s hard to say for sure, since their names didn’t appear in the old album. We can only assume that these are relatives of the Bayer couple.
The team began building a family tree and entered the little information that was in the album into it. Even the small amount of information yielded results, such as census records of the people featured in the album and their descendants. Slowly but surely, the team was able to add more names to the tree. But the search for a living heir was not easy, as it turned out that many family members had unfortunately died in childhood. They were able to trace only one child of the couple who had children, and the team was able to trace living descendants in Colorado.
The Research team passed the information on to Chelsey Brown, who reached out via social media to a man named Scott Hargraves, whose great-great-grandmother, Mary J. Wick, appears in the album.
“When Chelsey approached me, I was skeptical,” says Scott. “I did a search for her on the Internet, I saw some mentions of similar things she had done in the past but I didn’t know if I should trust it. When she suggested that MyHeritage forward me the research report to review, I realized that it was probably real.”
Shortly thereafter, the MyHeritage researchers sent a detailed email, including all the documents found for Scott that prove his family connection to the people in the photos in the album, and even added a detailed family tree showing the family connection.
“This is important because such treasures sometimes find their way to the trash or are left on the street without people realizing the great historical and sentimental value they have,” Roi Mandel, MyHeritage’s Director of Research, wrote to Scott. “Such a story can inspire people to preserve such treasures, for the sake of future generations. This family story, which is reflected in the album, is also the story of America — as some of the people in the photos fought many years ago in the Civil War.”
“It was very surprising,” says Scott. “The information was very detailed. My uncle on my father’s side spent years in research, collected materials and documented and sent us a neat presentation with all the materials about that side of the family. But most of the information I got from MyHeritage I didn’t know before about my mother’s side. My mother, for example, did not know the origin of her mother’s (my grandma Audrey’s) maiden name of Wick, she only knew that Audrey’s mother, Mabel, had a maiden name of Knickman, and I knew my grandmother’s biological father died when my grandmother was a very young age. This matched the information that appeared in the family tree and sun chart I got from MyHeritage perfectly.”
What Scott found particularly moving was a 1910 census showing Scott’s great-great grandparents, Mary and Augustus, who had 4 children, 3 of whom died prematurely. “Only one survived, my great-grandfather Elmer, thanks to whom we are here. It was very moving to see this documentation written by hand.”
Scott has placed the antique album on the mantle in his home, next to antique books bequeathed to him by his grandmother. “I’m honored that of all of the people that this could have happened to, it was my luck that they chose to contact me to take ownership of this amazing photo album.”
On the day he received the album that was mailed to him, he sent a letter of thanks to the Research team. “It is gorgeous and something I will cherish forever,” he wrote.
We are honored to have been able to assist Chelsey in returning this incredible find to its rightful owner. Follow Chelsey on TikTok and Instagram for more unbelievable stories of historical photos, albums, and letters returned to the rightful heirs.
Source: My Heritage