Monday, June 5, 2017

Mystery Photo: My Small Town

Anne here.
You might be a history nerd if you decide to purchase some old photos from your home town antique store just to see if you can find them on
You might be from a small town if said old photos from your town's antique store turn out to be your distant cousin!

This weekend's project was in the garden, finding something from the antique store to let our Clematis climb on. So while my husband was digging out this old picket fence, I was digging through  other treasure at our town's remodeled Coppes Kitchen Cabinet factory established in 1870, now Coppes Commons.

If you've ever browsed through antique stores, you know there are all sorts of cast offs from decades past. There's only so much stuff that can get passed down through families before the leftovers end up in an estate sale. Some of those cast offs unfortunately end up being family photos. Often it's because none of them are identified on the back.

One of my treasured finds while researching family history is the discovery of an old family photo. So when I found a basket of old pics with a few names on them, all inscribed "To: Maggie" I decided to buy them for a dollar and have some fun. Among the stack, was one photo marked "Miller's Studio, Nappanee, Indiana" so I had a hunch the whole stack was from a local estate.

Once home, I couldn't wait to see if I could find these old folks on I found out that this lovely girl is Gladys Hepler:

And it turns out she grew into an accomplished young lady who became the editor-in-chief and Valedictorian of her class at Nappanee High School. And a quick internet search finds her two years later working as Coppes in the offices. I was able to post an email through Ancestry to a few family members who might be interested in getting these originals back. It would be fun to mail them!

But the best find is this photo of Grace Evans (right) who turns out to be my great grandfather Earl Reed's (left) 3rd cousin!

I found that she married Clayton A. Reed, whose death certificate states he was a foster child--so she didn't marry her cousin! Phew. But another interesting tidbit found on Find-A-Grave states that Grace was Clayton's second wife, the first being an "arranged marriage" to the niece of prominent Coppes Kitchens owners, but apparently that didn't work out (that tidbit was not verified, but was researched by another researcher). In another photo, she's pictured (upper left) with friends: Myrtle Eby (lower left) and Pearl & Grace Alexander (right).

Another quick search and I found that Grace & Pearl Alexander are sisters who never married, and Myrtle Eby married Norman Stump who is first cousins with Gladys Hepler. All of the photos from the basket are addressed to "Maggie" who I believe is a grandmother, or friend. The 1920 Census finds Myrtle working as a "stenciler" at a factory, which I suspect is Coppes factory.

It looks like Coppes Kitchens served not only as a major industry in Nappanee at the turn of the century, but a social hub that may have been the central connection for these girls. Don't they sport a great quintessential Gibson Girl look?! Ah, life in my small town....

Oh, and the garden project we started out with? That white picket fence worked out pretty cool! I always joked with my husband that we'd have a white picket fence someday....

Please mark the backs of your family photos!
Have you ever discovered old family treasures like that?
Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
Coffee drinker--any time.
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  1. What an interesting article! Thanks for sharing. I enjoy old photos but I fear our new generation (my daughter) may not be so inclined. I have pictures of My granddad as a baby and his parents. I've often wondered why no one smiles in these old photos but I read somewhere that it took such a long time for the cameras to capture the pictures that it was too tiring to keep smiling.

    1. Gail, you can use for a free trial. I believe you can create a family tree and upload your family photos to it. Then anyone interested in your tree can view and cherish those old photos.

  2. How fun! I love this kind of treasure hunt!

    In one of our local antique shops, there is a basket of old photos on the counter labeled, "Instant Relatives." LOL!

    1. I totally thought the Miss-Museum in you would love this adventure!

  3. Oh, I love this! Thanks for sharing! :D
    I'm interested in how you went about finding this information on You see... I recently purchased some old photos for a nickel each. I have no idea who these people are, but I just felt drawn to them somehow and also kinda sad that their family seemed to not want them (I imagine you may understand what I mean). Personally, I love old photos and I've long been interested in finding out who all the people are in our old family photos and how they're related to me... learn some of their stories, you know?
    I guess I may very well qualify as a history nerd, eh? ;)

    1. I recommend looking into beginner forms of creating a family tree. Learn how to do basics like searching the census, death and military records, and use Find-a-grave to build your tree. Good luck! Welcome to the history-nerd-club, haha!

  4. OH wow! How on earth did you find out who was in the pictures? I love this. I adore seeing old photos and trying to figure out who they are.

    1. Susan, I've been researching genealogy since I was 13. Using you can look through old US Census records and other original documents that track family relationships, dates, and occupations.

  5. I LOVE that you did this! I always feel sorry for the people who are losing part of their family history, because no one knows who is in the photos! I have done something similar upon my brother-in-law finding dogtags to a man who was a photographer during a war. I started a tree with the name and tracked down a survivor, so we could return the tags. I often help people to try to find their missing relative. Genealogy is fascinating to me, and I love reading fiction books involving genealogy. This was a fun post to read!

    1. Such a very cool story Becky. I hope you found the man who lost his dog tags. This sort of thing is so fascinating and fun!


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