Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Looking Through A Box Of Old Photos

Roger and I have been in Arcata for almost year. We rented a small house thinking we would find a home to buy within a few short months of our arrival. We didn't unpack most of our boxes and none of our art. Everything is still neatly taped up in large cardboard containers in the garage. One of the very few boxes I did bring in from the garage was full of old photos. I had planned to look through this particular box for quite some time, but never got around to it.

Lately the weather has been blustery, cool, and endlessly gray. Not good for atmospheric optics, birdwatching at the marsh, or even walks around the neighborhood. So, I started to make use of the time by going through the old photos, scanning them and sending the .jpgs to the family. It has been a delightful divergence from the doldrums.
There was one photo of my mother's aunt, uncle, and cousins that had a lot of writing on the back. It was in old German handwriting. No one in my family could translate it at all. I started thinking about how to find someone who could figure out what was written here.
That's when I remembered the blog  Interim arrangements that I have been reading written by a woman named Sabine who lives in Germany. So, I left a comment on one of her posts and asked her if it would be okay to send her this photo of the writing, if she would be willing to translate it. Sabine emailed and said yes. My family and I were thrilled. The thought of knowing what these words said more than 90 years after they were written was so exciting.

A day later we received a note from Sabine telling us what was written here. She did more than translate the words, she also told us a bit of the history of where my mother's relatives were vacationing at the time this photo was taken. Here is what the card said:

My dears! Sending you from here the most heartfelt wishes, Maly & Dorchen have already been here for 5 weeks ; I visited for 5 days with Rudi and Siegfried. Any news at your end? Here, all is as usual. Your mother and Hack as well as Max are very well! Why don’t you write? How is Adolf’s brother? Would you not think of coming here for a visit, it will cost you next to nothing, with the Dollar rate so high und would have been for nothing with the Dollar at 30 000 Marks. Now the Dollar is at 140  - 150 000 Mark. We are going to leave today, best wishes your Georg, Maly, Dorchen, Rudi and Siegfried.

Sabine wrote, "It appears the card was written by a Georg. The name Dorchen is a pet name for Dora or Dorothee. The red stamp is a postal stamp from Bad Kissingen, a spa town in northern Bavaria, not far from were I grew up. My grandparents used to go there in late summer for the water spa treatments and general gossip as well as being seen etc. You have to imagine a pretty town with showy buildings, private clinics, parks and open air concerts (small orchestras, tenors, the works), exhibitions, tea dances and thermal springs for drinking (yuk) and/or bathing. I believe it was quite the place to be in the 19th and early 20th century. Very posh."

We would have never known the details of any of this, not a word. This photo was probably taken in the early 1920s. My grandparents left Germany in 1921, and the photo was taken after that. Sabine's translation and insights really helped us understand the context.

Some time after my mother's family received this photo, the eldest son, Rudi came to America. Then, the younger son Siegfried followed and so did Maly (my grandmother's sister). Georg never came to the US and died in Germany. Dorshen managed to escape from Germany at a very difficult time for Jewish citizens. I met Maly, Rudi, and Siegfried, but not Dorshen (who died at the age of 40 in 1948). I googled around to see what became of the family and was blown away to learn that Rudi lived until he was 99 years old and died in New Jersey in 2005.

Is it not amazing what the internet can tell us these days? The best part of gray, blustery days is the piecing together of small bits of family history. Thanks to the incredible kindness of fellow blogger Sabine. The internet told me that this is how to say it in German: Meine Familie dankt Ihnen! Sure hope that's true.


  1. Nice bit of research work that and a great way to tie up a photo. BTW I have been to Bad Kissingen many years ago. I was working in Germany on a instalation in Nurenburg and stopped off at Bad Kissingen on the way home with my then to be wife.

  2. I have several boxes of family slides going back nearly 50 years. I've been meaning to go through them, scan the best, and send it to family. No I feel more inspired to do so.

    Another great post, Robin. (But I hope you get some clear skies for your atmospheric optics.)

  3. So many old photographs are never identified. I'm glad you are protecting these. So glad you were able to get the translation. Yes, the Internet is totally amazing.

  4. Bill- I love knowing that you went to Bad Kissingen. One of those things that makes the world a little smaller.

    Pablo-- On a cold snowy day, take out that box of slides and get started. You'll be amazed by how much energy a project like this inspires. It is a true labor of love. YES, I hope for some clearing and the light and shadow of beauty.

    NCmountainwoman-- I think about the photos that have been lost over the years. My ex-husband inadvertently tossed all of mine during a move. I have the original paperwork that my grandparents submitted when they came to America. I should scan that. The handwriting is like artwork.

  5. Reading your post makes me happy. Glad to be of help.

  6. Sweet to see how the grey blustery spring days in Arcata led to this sunlight shed on your family's history. There is so much to be discovered in old family photos and notes written long ago when we make use of the internet in our searching. I, too, am fortunate to have photos from so long ago. So sorry to hear about your lost photos. Thank you for sharing this story with us. Yes. A labor of love.

    In May of 1975, when I was 25 years old, I spent a month living in a trailer in McKinleyville on Bird Avenue. My youngest sister was living in a rented house, and on that small property there was a small trailer which was not being used at that time. I remember well the blustery grey weather you describe. I also remember how relieved I was to be back on the Northern California coast after having spent a distressing fall and winter dealing with snow and ice in Wayland, Massachusetts, wondering if I would ever see the Pacific Ocean again. Then, there I was in McKinleyville, not far from the ocean, but it was too foggy to see it much of the time. My recollection is that I spent much of my time reading in that month that I lived in the trailer, but I also remember doing some solitary walking in the vicinity of Bird Avenue. I didn't have a car. My sister was away at work or at school much of the time. There was plenty of time to wonder about what the future would bring. My boyfriend (who had found a job in Bellingham) and I were going to give Bellingham a try, but my heart yearned for the coast of Northern California. I wonder if would yearn for Bellingham in the same way if I were to be able move back to the Northern California coast again. I do love fall and winter and early spring in Bellingham. It is only in the late spring and during the summer here when it is warm and muggy, that I dream of leaving Bellingham and waiting out the cool summer fog and wind that is part of life on the north coast of California.

  7. Sabine-- You made this post possible! Glad it made you happy. Thank you, thank you.

    am-- So interesting that you mention McKinleyville. Roger and I looked at a house there yesterday. It's way bigger than we want, but it has a wonderful view of the Pacific. It's got a very unusual layout to accommodate the three women who bought the land and built the house. Four bedrooms quite separate from each other, and each with its own bath. Not a "family" home at all, but it has a spectacular view of the Pacific. It's also got 1/2 acre and is on the best hiking trail around. Mmm, we may go take a second look tomorrow. That roaring Pacific, the whales, the shorebirds, the trails. A crazy too big house... Yikes.

    1. Too big, and yet. It kind of sounds like a wonderful "family" home, if you might have visitors.

  8. What a marvelous story that was made possible via the Internet and blogging. How wonderful for Sabine to not only translate but to also give you additional information that you couldn't get anywhere else. It is a small world these days isn't it?

  9. Arkansas Patti-- Yes, it is a small world in the very best way. I am reminded of the goodness in people through these crazy internet connections. So many kind people in the world, and I count you among them.

  10. It's so cool to open a window into the past, especially a past that you were not actually a part of, but that you are connected to. You begin to recognize them as real people who once had lives of their own.

  11. Mark-- Yes, it really is so interesting to find distant relatives and piece together their journeys. My mother was particularly moved by these old photos, reclaiming and remembering the old family.

  12. So wonderful that the interubes brought you not only translation, but context and history. xoxo

  13. kathy a-- Yes, it was really great to find answers this way. I don't know how I could have proceeded without this wonderful network of friends.