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Where in the world is Jack Thomas Lile?

When and why the Lile family came to Butte Falls, no one really knows, but when they left in the 1940s or early '50s, they left a part of their life behind.

Stashed in the rafters of an old garage, perfectly preserved after gathering dust for at least 25 years, was a family photo album.

When Pete Vorbeck rented that house and garage in 1969, the album was still there, waiting for just the right person to come along. But Pete wasn't that person.

Vorbeck had kids, and kids like to play in forts and secret clubhouses. Before the first board went up in those rafters, the kids found the album and brought it straight to dad.

After looking through the photos, many labeled with the names "Lyle" and "Lile," Vorbeck made the rounds, asking everyone he found in town if they knew this family. Nobody did.

The Vorbeck family moved many times over the next 40 years, and a lot of people would have tossed that album away, but not Vorbeck.

He kept it until December of last year, when he finally gave it to a friend, Charleen Brown, president of the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society.

He thought if anyone had a chance of finding the family and returning the album, it had to be Brown and members of the society.

"He realized that it was a valuable thing," Brown said, "because it had a lot of family pictures and documents inside. It actually had the original social security card of Jack Thomas Lile and also his military discharge papers."

Starting with the Social Security number, Brown began her hunt; sniffing out clues like a prime-time TV detective.

"I found that he was born in 1929 in Klamath Falls," she said, "and from that, I found the family in the census records."

As fast as the facts began to mount up, they also began to scatter in multiple directions.

Brown and the genealogy team finally tracked Jack's younger brother to Bangor, Maine, but he had died there in 2001.

At least his obituary offered some hope. Both of his brothers were still alive at the time, George in Boise, Idaho and Jack Lile somewhere in California.

"The obituary gave the younger brother's phone number," Brown said, "so I called it and left a message on an answering machine. I'm sure she thought I was some kind of nut trying to get money out of her. Anyway, she didn't respond."

Brown left a second message, and although George's widow still didn't respond, her daughter, Karen Asselin, of Dover, N.H., did.

Asselin told Brown that Jack Lile was her uncle, but that the family had long ago lost touch with him, although they believed he was alive and living in California.

"She was really excited," Brown said. "She dabbles in genealogy and she was absolutely amazed that we had tracked them down. But she had no idea how the album got to Butte Falls or why it was left in the rafters."

Brown sent the album to Asselin with hopes that she would, for the first time, be able to see photographs of relatives that until now she had only heard of.

The mystery isn't quite solved yet, and because so many photographs in the album were of Jack Thomas Lile, Brown would like to talk to him.

"We think that Jack is still alive," she said, "and we'd sure like to find him. He could answer just about all of our questions. That would be something special."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

The Lile family photo album spent more than 25 years in the rafters of a Butte Falls garage before it was returned to the family. (Courtesy Charleen Brown) - Courtesy Charleen Brown