My mother just wants to see her father's face.
November 9, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

My mother never met her birth father; in fact, she's never even seen a picture of him. She really wants to get a photo of him. How can I make this happen? Complications inside.

My mother's birth father and my grandmother were briefly married, but divorced when my mother was still an infant. He remarried and never contacted my grandmother or my mother again. (I think this might have been everybody's wish at the time.)

He died about 15 years ago, survived by his second wife and his children from this new life.

My grandmother refuses to speak about any of what really happened. The other family wants nothing to do with any of this (for understandable reasons) and refuse contact. But my mother has never even seen her father's face, and this causes her incredible frustration and pain. To make matters worse, everyone says she's his spitting image.

Here are the facts I know:
- his date and place of birth and death
- the high school he graduated from (I'm trying to find a yearbook)
- he served in the military, possibly in Korea
- the company he worked for for most of his life

Does anyone have any ideas of non-family sources for a photo?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could you give a call to the historical society or library of the town in which he lived? Perhaps they could point you in the right direction - yearbook, newspaper, company newsletters, etc.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:41 AM on November 9, 2011

Okay, I hope this doesn't sound too dumb, but have you tried Googling it? Just because maybe someone on that other side of the family has posted stuff, or done a family tree & shared it online, or he was at a military reunion that posted pictures, etc. You might also try an search.

Try checking online obituaries -- maybe his photo was published in the local newspaper when he died.

And for the 2nd wife's family -- is it only her who isn't interested in helping? Because maybe you could appeal to someone from the younger generation(s) who may want to help you and not feel burdened by history or shame or whatever it is that might be keeping some others from helping you. I might try a well-worded written appeal -- play on their sympathies about how your mother is growing older, has been told that she is the spitting image of him, etc.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:42 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the local historical society. It's possible that the company might also have archived I.D. photos (but there might be some privacy/security issues about releasing them). In addition to Googling, if you have a subscription to, you can do a search there: genealogists can upload photos, and there will be links to various helpful databases that might also provide some leads.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:44 AM on November 9, 2011

Try contacting the morgue for the community newspaper in the town(s) where he lived when he married Wife No. 2, retired, coached little league, etc. or whatever else might have landed his photo in the local paper. If the paper is defunct, the local reference librarians may be able to help
posted by carmicha at 10:44 AM on November 9, 2011

Call the library in the town he graduated from. They probably have high school yearbooks and might be able to send you a photo from it.

And if you can track down children and grandchildren from the other family, see if you can appeal to them. Explain that you don't want to bring up old wounds, but you are curious to see what your grandfather looked like.

In my own genealogy quest, I found people from my parent's generation did not want to talk about anything at all, but their kids had no problem with swapping information.
posted by bondcliff at 10:46 AM on November 9, 2011

+1 Contact the historical society. If you send them a donation, they might be happy to mail you photocopies of yearbook page, local news articles, etc.

Good luck. It's nice that you want to help your mother in this way.
posted by valannc at 10:46 AM on November 9, 2011

Do you know more about his military service? If it was for the US military and you know the branch you might be able to get the records here. My grandfather's had a picture of him in it. I just got a photocopy but it was cool enough. You may also find it easier to order them personally as he is your grandfather. The remarrying issue complicates if your mom can get it. I'm not sure. Ask for everything in the comments and say it is so you can get to know your grandfather who you know nothing about and keep it to that. Also, be aware that some of the records burnt in a fire so they may not be available, or only a small amount for the individual is available.

Also in the US, I'd check with the state archives. It's hit or miss but they tend to have a lot of random stuff.
posted by jwells at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could be on but also - his family could be on and if there aren't pictures of him it is very likely there will be pictures of other people in the family.
posted by cda at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2011

Also try calling the high school librarian of the school her graduated from. Most schools keep copies of yearbooks and I can't imagine they wouldn't be willing to scan a copy and send it to you.

Also this might be something a private investigator could be helpful with.
posted by whoaali at 9:09 PM on November 9, 2011 has a high school yearbook project going, so you might get lucky there.
posted by kuppajava at 7:07 AM on November 10, 2011

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