When I was an undergrad studying history at Arizona State University I used to spend my free time roaming the shops along Mill Avenue in Tempe. I bought all of my books (used, because I was a poor college kid who’s library paycheck barely covered a monthly Ramen supply) at Changing Hands Bookstore and began my love affair with caffeine at Coffee Plantation. The one store that I was guaranteed to get lost in was Those Were The Days, a quirky bookstore/antiques/kitsch paradise. In addition to a unique book collection, it was filled with vintage trinkets, toys and clothing. You could find Kodak accordion cameras next to curled spectacles and aged hand mirrors.
My obsession, however, was the card catalog drawers stuffed with orphaned postcards and photographs. I loved to flip through the long ago correspondence and catch glimpses of summer vacations and budding romances. The photographs ranged from young children in stiff Victorian collars to teenagers in tulle prom dresses mugging for the camera, but each one was mysterious, a bit haunting, and had a story to tell. I couldn’t help but wonder who these people were and how they got so lost that they ended up in a little shop in the desert.
Orphaned photographs are pretty common in most antique and vintage clothing shops. They still catch my eye and I can never resist the urge to say hello to all the forgotten faces waiting to be found. Thankfully, there are now several efforts being made to collect, catalog and identify these types of items. Curious and kindhearted folks like the ones behind The Georgia Anna Project and Grandma’s Picture Box are among them. Who knows? Maybe some of my friends from Mill Avenue found their way back home.
Here are other snap happy sites that may assist with your genealogy searches.
Dead Fred – Search orphaned images by keyword and surname. Spot a family member and the photo is yours for free!
Ford & Nagle – A collection of over 3,000 identified photographs. No images, unfortunately, but their metadata descriptors are beautiful.
Look At Me – An assortment of found photos. What they lack in data, they make up in retro charm.
Recycled Relatives – Reuniting lost photos with their families since 2000.
(P.S. Mill Avenue has weathered a lot of change since I was a student pounding the pavement in my Doc Martens. Those Were the Days closed down after a 35 year run in 2008 and Coffee Plantation followed suite in 2009 after 20 years. I’m happy to say that Changing Hands is going strong after almost 40 years.)