When a simple trail run during a layover in Medford yielded a discovery of a pile of old photos languishing on the wet ground, Skywest flight attendant Belinda Glenn said it tugged at her heart strings.
Running with colleagues along the Bear Creek Greenway near Harry & David Field, Glenn said she found a bunch of loose photos and at least one organized photo album in an area of campsites strewn with trash.
The photos, primarily from the 1930s and 1940s, seemed to document the lives of a family. A chubby-cheeked toddler sat on a stool in her fancy dress. Young adults posed with a new car. A diaper-clad baby nuzzled a family dog.
Realizing the emotional value of what she was looking at, Glenn, who once worked for Ancestry.com, said she felt obligated to try and return the yellowing photos to family who would treasure the stories they told.
She took them back to her hotel, let them dry out and took them home to Utah after her flight to Medford.
“I’m not the kind of person who can leave something like that lying on the ground. I saw the photos and, for a second, I thought, ‘Oh, no, I can’t deal with this right now,’” she said.
“But I was amazed at the number of pictures and by how old they were. My family has pictures from that era from family members, but we don’t have nearly that many, and I really cherish the ones we do have. My grandfather passed away in December, and old photos were displayed at his funeral, and family members were looking and reminiscing. Photos just mean so much to people.”
She left the photos to dry overnight on flat surfaces around her hotel room, Glenn said, and her years at ancestry.com began to tug at her.
“They were curling up as they were drying. I didn’t have any books to enclose them, but I just had to do the best I could. I let them dry out. I got up at 3 to collect them all and be back to the airport by 5 a.m. for our 6 o’clock flight,” she said.
Once home, Glenn posted her find to social media.
“I was trail running in Medford recently for a quick work trip and found this family photo album in the woods off the trail near my hotel, among some trash. The only name I can find is Delores Ann Klassen. If anyone has thoughts as far as where I could post this to possibly find the family, I’d love any ideas!”
Within minutes, Glenn was inundated with suggestions and accolades for her good deed. News clippings showed up in addition to details from online family trees.
Some of the names in the photo pile included the names Doris Abbott and Delores Klassen. Other names in the album included nicknames Snorky and Buster.
Genealogist Betty Slover, whose husband tagged her online in Glenn’s post, jumped in to figure out that the couple in some of the images were Delores (Klassen) and Alton Friesen, married in June of 1956. She found photos of Alton Friesen on a sports team in high school not long before his marriage to Delores, as well as information about Delores’s dad, John Klassen, including his military records.
Documents show Delores and Alston had lived in Dallas and Salem, and if they are still living would be in their 80s.
“If they’re still alive, it’s not likely that they’d be on social media,” Slover said.
Another online search found another of the names in the album, Doris Abbott, had lived to be 100 or 101, and was buried at Siskiyou Memorial Park in Medford.
Slover, who runs a Facebook page called “Roots & U,” admitted enjoying the task of reuniting old photos with families.
“I found a tin can years ago full of negatives with names and dates, so I put them into digital form and put together a tree. I actually recently connected with the son of the family, who was a baby in the photos we found,” said Slover, who lives near Redding.
“My husband tagged me on the post from Medford, so I did some digging. I found out pretty quickly the couple still seem to be alive. One relative commented and said the photos had been stolen. We’re waiting to hear from some potential family, still. The hope is to reunite the photos with people who will cherish them.”
Glenn said she would hold out for some documentation from family who had a genuine connection to those in the images. A number of respondents reported connection to the family names but were distantly related and hadn’t known those family members personally.
“My hope is to find somebody — a relative who was connected to the people in the photos — who would cherish these and take care of them and pass them down and keep them in their family,” she said.
“The memories are so important, and they belong with people whose families made those memories.”
Glenn added, “People have done things like this before for me, so I just wanted to make sure and do the right thing … pay it forward a little bit.”
To contact Glenn, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 720-772-8995.
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at email@example.com.