Online audience helps to solve history mystery

Well, we now know what drives the most traffic on our Facebook page: Old photos of Brown County folks.

That lesson came courtesy of a family photo album, whose owner was identified more than a year later through the power of social networking.

Back in the fall of 2013 — or possibly the spring, he can’t really remember — Kent Road resident Jeff Cooke found pages from a photo album strewn on Yellowwood Lake Road near the state forest campgrounds.

Pages were scattered across about 20 or 30 feet. Cooke gathered them up, stuck them in his coat and stopped at the ranger station, not too far from Rogers Cemetery. He thought a cemetery visitor might have left it on the roof of a car.

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But nobody at the ranger station recognized the photos, the album or the few names mentioned in it.

While cleaning up at home after this Christmas, Cooke ran across the album again and brought it to the Brown County Democrat.

It was obviously important to someone. It holds prints of old tintypes, snapshots of babies in christening gowns, shots of folks working in their gardens and posing by their whitewashed farmhouses, one-room schoolhouse group photos, and families smiling at holiday gatherings. Their clothing and cars showed a time span of at least 70 years.

Behind some photos were scraps of notebook paper with some Brown County-sounding names: Walter Cummings, Bill Petro, Minnie Crouch, the Bonds (who were neighbors to someone in the album), Robert E. Cummings and Walter Rogers.

A note with the name “Marcia” was tucked in some of the photo sleeves.

There was also a note about someone’s grandmother marrying a Roberts. The Reeves Cemetery also was mentioned.

Reporter-photographer Suzannah Couch decided to reach out to our Facebook fans, posting 18 photos and asking to “help us get these memories back into the right hands.”

You did.

More than 50 “shares” and 5,000 views later, overnight, you identified the people in some of those photos — some of them your own family — and reached the album’s owner, Brian Smith of Indianapolis.

Crystal Campbell recognized her Grandma and Grandpa King.

Nettie Walls recognized her uncle, George Roberts, who is Lois Smith’s father. Lois is Brian Smith’s mother.

Rick Bond spotted a photo of Genevra “Chig” Owens, the first woman elected county commissioner. He tagged Kim Woods-Owens to take a look at whether her relatives were included.

She found a picture of her maternal grandparents, Mary and Glenn Roberts, on their 50th wedding anniversary. Woods-Owens came in for a closer look at the whole album, and she wrote Smith a note to include with it, glad he found this family treasure again.

Smith finally found us on Jan. 6, after first going to our former office on Van Buren Street — now Muddy Boots Cafe. He moved out of the county in 1975, and that’s where we were back then.

He’d been with his mom looking at old home places in the area of Yellowwood Lake Road when the album went missing. They were in a truck, so he might have put it in the bed or on the roof and driven off, he’s not sure.

His sister alerted him to the post on Facebook and urged him to check it out, recognizing a lot of family members. A lot of those photos he has backed up digitally, but a few, he’s sure, were only in that book.

He was afraid it would be in bad shape but was pleased to find that other folks, like Cooke, cared enough to preserve his irreplaceable Brown County history.

Brown County Democrat Editor Sara Clifford welcomes comments at 988-2221 or [email protected].