When we find our mystery couple or their families, how will they feel about what we’ve done?
About three weeks had elapsed between posting the first photograph on Is This Your Mother? and the moment the mystery was solved. The real breakthroughs happened in the final 24 hours, when one discovery led to another, each one converting an earlier hypothesis into a fact, while simultaneously introducing new questions.
Some of the most interesting clues had been there all along but the necessary connections had not yet been made. Some of the photographs of Edna contain road signs or landmarks in the background. License plates and bumper stickers on buses provided date and location information. Eventually, I found a slide on which I could see that the license plate on their car was stamped “Missouri.” Photographs of Edna — in Honolulu, posing with groups of women whom are all wearing ribbons that also say “Missouri” — both confirmed that they were in Hawaii for a special event or convention and that their home was almost certainly — and fittingly — The Show-Me State.
Two of the slides include the name of the ship that Harry and Edna traveled on. The S.S. Matsonia made her maiden voyage in 1957, and many of the most interesting photographs were made on that vessel.
As more details were discovered, it became less difficult to search the vast stores of online information. A search for “Harry, Edna” on Ancestry.com produced thousands of matches. However, since I had a photograph of them taken at their 25th anniversary party and marked “1948” on the slide, the search narrowed to “Harry, Edna, married, 1923” which yielded 200 results. From there, the search narrowed further — by state, city, occupation, religious or philanthropic association — all clues from other slides. At this point, we knew that Edna and Harry were married, were members of the Shriners organization, lived in Missouri, and were passengers on the Matsonia in 1958.
Many people following Is This Your Mother? contributed knowledge and information that cumulatively lead to the learning the full story of Harry and Edna. On August 29, 2011, Kelley, Don, Char, and Jennifer were collecting and exchanging information they’d found. Jen, from the state of Washington, took it to the finish line and ultimately made the discovery.
One morning, about 2:30 a.m., Jen sent a message:
Jeff, Harry August Grossmann and Edna Annette Lehr. Edna died in 1983. Harry passed away three years later.
That’s it! We were there!
Jen had masterfully tracked down the identities of our mysterious couple. Furthermore, she had found their families, at least the ones that had Facebook accounts.
I had always imagined that at this moment I would feel a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but I didn’t.
Instead, my immediate reaction was selfish: This is happening too fast! I still have 900 photographs to share! Maybe I can convince Jen not to spill the beans just yet?
After about 30 seconds, I was over it. It was my responsibility to make sure that the family saw these photographs.
And although I suspected that public interest in the page would quickly wane after the cat was out of the bag, I announced that we had rescued Harry and Edna.
The next step was to contact one of Harry and Edna’s relatives. I wasn’t sure of the best way to do this. Calling on the telephone would be the most personal, but I imagined talking to one of the great-nieces on the telephone for the first time, trying to explain all of this in 30 seconds before she might hang up on me as some kind of kook.
I would need to explain how I discovered her great uncle’s slides. And I wanted to tell her of the wonderful photographs he made, and how I took care of the slides and dedicated weeks to preparing them, and how I put them online for … er … the world to … um … see. I had an uneasy feeling at that moment because I had never before questioned whether or not this project was kind. Suddenly, it seemed weird. Did I have the right to do this? I am not referring to the legal right, such as copyright, fair use doctrine, etc. Rather, I wondered if I’d considered if there might have been a better way to do this. I’d never imagined that first conversation with the relatives. But, I never thought we would find Harry and Edna so quickly. I became a little worried about how this might go down.
Jennifer sent messages to one or two of the family members, and she quickly received the first reply via email. She was contacted by Michael, who had seen his mother, father, and sister in two of the slides.
It’s been 18 months since we solved this mystery, and since then I’ve spoken to many of the family members and had lunch with three of them: Carol, Marcia, and Carrie, who is the girl in the grass skirt, perfectly centered in the frame as Harry often composed. Carrie appears along side Edna in many of the images. In early 2013, Anne attended one of the Chicago exhibitions of Lost and Found. It appears that my earlier concerns were unnecessary; I’ve never met a group of more supportive people. The note, below, from Marcia hints at that sentiment.
Dear Jeff, I am one Harry & Edna's Great Nieces. I received an e-mail from my Naperville cousin regarding the FB page, etc. You have gone to great lengths to find our family and it is heartwarming and a little creepy (in a fun way) to see how interested others are in my Great Aunt and Uncle. Marcia