Oral History Detective: JoAnn Rossi edition

In JoAnn Rossi’s oral history interview (which you can read here), she mentions a class picture she brought in to donate to Alderwood Manor Heritage. As I was transcribing the interview, I thought of all the boxes we have in our collections room, and wondered where in the world that picture might be. I’d love to find the picture and include it with the interview transcript at the cottage, as well as use it as a visual aid on the web version of the transcript. Now, if only I could find that picture…

The next time I was at the cottage working on organizing our collections and entering them into our database, I reminded myself I needed to find that picture. I had been planning on how to try to find it: I could search our database for JoAnn’s name, to see if it was donated under her name (But was it an actual donation? And was it donated in her name? And would she have donated it under her maiden name or her married name?); I could search our database by the school name (But was it cataloged as “Alderwood School,” “Alderwood Grade School,” “Alderwood Manor School,”…?); I could search by the grade level or year (But was that information included with the picture? And did she say what grade/year it was in the interview?). So I had a few possible routes to search, but wasn’t sure any of them would lead to results. I was already disheartened without even starting my search!

So as I was working in our database, reminding myself of all the ways I wanted to look for the picture, thinking of all the potential roadblocks, and reminding myself of the names JoAnn had mentioned as being in the picture (Karl Stadler, Mary Shipley, Arnie Nelson), I just happened to go through our collection of class photos, completely unrelated to looking for that picture. And then… there… My eye was caught by the name Mary Shipley. “Wait!” I thought to myself. “Could it be… ?” Then I saw Karl Stadler’s name listed with that same picture. “Could it…?” And then Arnie Nelson’s name! “No… This is too good to be true!” But there it was: a class picture, third grade, 1941-1942.

It was a beautiful, glorious moment. The clouds parted, the sun came out (Okay, I was in the basement, so I don’t really know if the clouds parted and the sun came out), angels sang! “I think I’ve found it!”

The true test, though, was something that I hadn’t planned on looking for, but that popped into my head as I was investigating this picture: the little boy with holes in the knees of his pants. I checked the front row, like I remember JoAnn saying in her interview, and squinted hard. Sure enough, front and center, there’s a little boy with what looks to be a hole in the knee of his pants. Eureka! I’ve found the picture!

I always know that I’m at a disadvantage when I work on projects for AMHA: I’m sort of a newcomer, so I don’t know a lot of the history and people that our members all seem to know. A lot of my knowledge about the area’s past comes from research: reading books, listening to others, transcribing oral histories, entering donations. Because I don’t have that first-hand knowledge, I wouldn’t have automatically known that this picture was JoAnn’s class, or known by looking at the faces that these were the same kids she was talking about. So when I can research (or, to some extent, just get lucky) and find something specific to a project, or to a story I’ve heard, it’s a huge deal for me. And when I can find the exact picture that someone referred to in an interview, and when I can stumble over that picture without even searching for it, that’s one of those Eureka moments I just love!

Have you read JoAnn’s oral history? If you haven’t, or if you don’t remember it, go on and take a look at it, with the class picture, and see if you think I found the right one. Are you in that picture? If so, let us know! We have a handful of names included with the donated picture, but maybe you’re one of the missing classmates!