Earlier this year, on a complete whim, I wrote a post about my 3x great-grandmother, Minnie Igle Wildrick. I was browsing around on my family tree and for whatever reason, I kept returning to Minnie’s profile page. Okay, I said. Let’s begin telling your story.
Little did I know that that post would bring me one of the greatest gifts I could receive.
In mid-April, I received an email from a woman named Audrey asking me to call her. She included her phone number, one with a California prefix, and a photo of the back of a portrait with a few lines of writing I could make out:
I was thrilled! I didn’t yet know who this woman was, but the thought that kept running through my mind was the possibility of distant relation. I knew Minnie had lived in California in the 1920s-1930s so a part of me hoped that this Audrey might be a descendant of Minnie’s sister, Katherine. But, with the listing of Clinton O McMullin, who is a distant cousin through my great-grandfather, Freeman Wildrick’s sister Rhoda Wildrick McMullin, I had to wonder if she was relation through the McMullin side. And with her name Audrey and my middle name Audrey, I also wondered if it was possible that Audrey was a family name we never knew about. Whatever the case, I felt it must be fate. I called her that evening after work and left a message. She called back immediately.
While I learned that she wasn’t family, she did share with me an amazing story. She had found Minnie’s portrait hanging in a vintage shop and had admired the frame. After initially passing it by, she returned to buy it. While she had hoped to use the frame for a picture of her own, she felt terrible about the thought of discarding the photo of this unknown woman.
When she returned home with the portrait, she discovered the writing on the back and decided to search online for any possible descendants of Minnie’s and see if they would interested in the portrait. She discovered a “Wildrick” family tree compiled by Randolph Palmer (and a little help from yours truly). She attempted to contact him, but with no immediate response, she returned to searching, and quickly discovered my recent post of Minnie Igle Wildrick.
With the information that I knew of Minnie, her birth year, the family connection to the McMullins, along with other tidbits I knew of Minie’s life, we quickly confirmed that this Minnie was indeed my 3x great-grandmother. Audrey graciously offered to mail the portrait to me. And, after a little difficulty with the post office – finding a box that would support and protect Minnie’s portrait and the delicate glass frame – she ended up having a box built by a company, who, when hearing of her story, decided to donate their time and the box to the cause of getting Minnie home.
Minnie arrived safe and sound to my doorstep at the end of May. I eagerly tore into the box, excited to see her. I convinced my mom to take a picture with Minnie and I so that I could send Audrey a picture of three generations of women.
While the information on the back of Minnie’s portrait confirmed her location of birth, my most thrilling discovery was written in pen. Do you see the teeny, tiny print on the back of the portrait, near the wire? I was shocked to find my grandfather’s name and address here in Omaha!
I had to know more of where the portrait came from, and how Minnie ended up for sale in a vintage store in California. Audrey gave me the store name and information and I quickly called them to see what else I might learn.
I spoke with the store owner, and told her I had an odd inquiry regarding the purchase of an oval portrait by someone else. I could tell she sounded skeptical on the phone, but when I explained the story of Audrey and Minnie, she eagerly shared what she knew.
The portrait had been purchased, somewhere in the Midwest she believed, by a coworker of her daughter, when the woman had been home visiting family. The woman had brought the portrait back to California and had planned to use the frame before she found another one she preferred. She ended up selling Minnie to the vintage shop where she was discovered by Audrey and thus Minnie made her way from the Midwest to California and back again. I half-wonder if Minnie’s spirit, feeling wanderlust, wanted to experience her life travels once more.
This has been such an amazing journey. For Audrey to have taken the time to see if any descendants of Minnie’s were around and interested in their ancestors lives still feels me with such awe. I feel now that Minnie was calling to me to write her story so that she could be returned to family.
I sent Audrey a thank you note a few weeks ago. In it, I told her how much she has inspired me. While I enjoy shopping antique and vintage shops, I’m always saddened by the enormous amounts of portraits and photos that have been abandoned and forgotten with time. With no names, families, dates, I understand it can be difficult to find out who each person is. I feel especially blessed that those generations who came before me had the sense to list names and places and dates on the backs of the photographs on the heirlooms in my possession. But even if they hadn’t, I can’t imagine simply giving or tossing them away.
These people lived. The photographs are proof of that.No one deserves to have their life treated as if it’s less than simply because their names have been lost.
Which brings me to the life lesson:
Label your records for future generations. And, if you find the name of a person upon the back of an artifact, I know I will be following Audrey’s example, and I hope you will too. Because you never know how much the return of what was lost and forgotten (or even unknown to descendants) can mean to them. And fill them with such love and awe at the goodness of the world.
Minnie Igle Wildrick