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Old photo sparks search for family

Have you ever wondered about old photos for sale at antique stores? How do these family treasures end up in a store? Were they tucked into a book or overlooked in a box sold at an estate auction? Renee Carr shares her story of finding a wedding picture at Backyard Antiques in Clinton, Ark.

Renee Carr, volunteer director of the Family History Center in Mountain View, she was drawn to the old photo of the young couple and thought, “They surely have children or grandchildren that would be thrilled to have the photo.”

The photo layout contained separate 5x7 photos of the bride and the groom. On the back of the paper frame, in faded pencil, was the caption: “Clarence & Estelle Whittle Wedding Picture.” Based on the hairstyles and dress of the couple, it appeared to be taken the 1930s. Carr paid the $5.50 price for the photo and looked forward to a sleuthing adventure to find family members with whom to reunite the picture.

Carr has always had a love for genealogy and knows the value of an old photo. Upon returning home, she did a search on the free website using only the name Clarence Whittle, spouse Estelle, with a marriage date range of 1920-1940. Within a few seconds up popped an entry where the couple was enumerated in the 1940 Census, residing in Sedgwick, Kansas. A copy of the handwritten original census page was available on the website and also included names of four young children.

Armed with a location, Carr did a Google search for Clarence Whittle, Sedgwick, Kansas, and quickly found an entry in a Harvey County, Kansas, genealogical database which contained the obituary of Clarence Whittle. Finding an obituary in genealogy research is a gold mine!

The obituary contained the marriage date of the couple – June 15, 1927, the names of five children (the youngest born after

the census in 1940) and included married names of the three daughters. Clarence had been a signal man for the Santa Fe Railroad and was of the Methodist faith. He had 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Another Internet search yielded the phone number of one of the daughters still residing in Kansas. Carr made the call and shared her find with a very surprised lady. Yes, she knew the picture, and could not imagine how it ended up in a store in Clinton, Ark. She shared that Clarence and Estelle grew up in rural Bentley, Kansas, and farmed as a young couple, but as a result of the Depression, and possibly the Dust Bowl, sought outside employment.

Estelle taught music and English for several years.

Clarence’s parents had family gatherings every Sunday for lunch and were offended if children and grandchildren didn’t come, according to their granddaughter. They were a close family.

Tracking the travels of the photo took several more phone calls. The Backyard Antiques manager agreed to contact the booth renter who in turn contacted Carr. Rhonda Finley of Marshall remembered that she had purchased a cigar box of photos from a lady at Junk Fest in Marshall during the Labor Day event. Finley didn’t know the lady’s name, but said her booth was set up next to Marshall Milling. A call to the store in Marshall landed a helpful man who believed the yard sale booth owner was Cheryl Hensley. A call to Hensley confirmed she had sold the box of photos. Her best recollection was that the cigar box of photos had been purchased either at Webb Auction in Clinton or at Hutch Auction near Damascus.

The picture was reunited with the Whittle family by priority mail to Kansas. All together the sleuthing adventure cost Carr about $10, but she says, “Where else can you find such inexpensive and rewarding entertainment?” A thank you card received later from the Whittle’s daughter expressed the family’s appreciation for the photo.

Carr and others at the history center provide free research assistance every Wednesday afternoon from 1-5 p.m. Contact Carr at (870) 615-2195 for more information about the center and services it offers.

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