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Photos find their way home, with a little help

A picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, it’s worth a lot more than that, especially photos of family.

But sometimes, those photos get separated from those families.

One LaGrange County woman has recently began to work on reuniting families with lost photos, sometimes giving them back photos they didn’t even knew existed.

Sherri Lackey began earlier this year after reading the book Talking Pictures by Ransom Riggs. “He built up stories around old photos and I thought I would do that,” she said. She went to antique stores looking for old photos, but came away with a different idea. “I saw the old photos and the genealogy bug kicked in,” she said. She began to wonder if the families would want the photos back that she was finding for sale in area antique stores.

Lackey starts with a photo that has a person’s name and, hopefully, a studio stamp or name. The more unique the name is, the easier it will be to track down, she pointed out. From there, she works online to narrow it down to an area based on the studio name, then looks for obituaries or other information to hopefully find a descendant. “Then I go to the white pages to get current information,” she stated.

While technology is a big help in finding descendants of the people in a photo, it has also caused a problem sometimes if the descendants are younger and only have a cellphone number, which are not listed.

Once she has a phone number, Lackey calls the descendants to see if they’re interested in getting the photo back. “There is some initial confusion on that first call,” she said. “After they hear what it is about, they’re willing to listen and talk about the photos.”

So far, she hasn’t had anyone not want to have the photos back.

In some cases, the family didn’t know the photos had been lost or didn’t know a certain photo even existed.

One batch of photos that she found had been left in a bureau that had been sold at an auction. Lackey found the last remaining sibling of the family, who is now 88 years old. The desk had belonged to her brother, who had been a professor. Some of the photos were of classes that their mother had taught. Those photos were being donated back to the school where the mother had taught.

Another photo showed two women, friends who posed for a photo together. She found the daughter of one of them, Emma Duerk, who is 94 and living in Florida. Her mother, Alene Duerk, was the first female to earn the rank of Admiral in the U.S. Navy. “She knew it was her mom and a friend in that photo,” Lackey said.

So far, Lackey has returned over 60 photos to 20 families. “It’s what I’ve done this summer and I really enjoy it,” she said. She still has a healthy stack of photos on the table that she is working on. The oldest photos have been from the early 1900s.

It has also changed how she thinks of her own photos, especially in the digital age. “I’ve decided that each year I’ll get a book printed with lots of photos from that year,” she said. That way, the photos are together and can be shared.

“If someone found photos of my family, they’d be treasures,” she said.

And the families that Lackey has worked hard to reunite with their lost photos feel the same way.