Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday From The Collectors - September 12

First, and most importantly, I want to thank Footnote Maven for her kind invitation to write about my website. I’m always happy when given the chance to talk about DeadFred and to share my adventure in its development and its growth.

While in Downtown Newport, RI, during the summer of 1965, I got caught in a rainstorm, and I quickly ducked into an antique store. Waiting for the storm to subside, I browsed around the store and found on a table a family photo album. This was the first time I had ever entered an antique store in my life and the first time I had seen old photographs. I was 19 years old and in the Navy. Antique stores and photo albums didn’t exist to 19-year-old sailors. Trying to stretch my time I started looking through the album, and I was somewhat taken aback by the album’s inhabitants and the mystery surrounding them. On impulse, I decided to buy the album, which was priced at $19.00. This was a lot of money to me. Navy pay at the time wasn’t good for a lowly seaman, but I had the amount needed and made the purchase. Thank goodness for an impulse purchase! This was the beginning of my photo collection and the birth of a healthy obsessive-compulsive personality, which would eventually lead to my 17,000-photo collection today and

Let’s fast-forward to June 1998 in Springdale, Arkansas. When I was 52 and working for Tyson Foods, I came down with an illness that had me bedridden for 4 months. I couldn’t get around much, so my wife Laurie bought me a computer. Once acclimated to the World Wide Web, I set out surfing for my family history. It was during this time, while filing photos, that I noticed a photo of a woman and a baby. On the back was written, “David James Robb Grigson 3 mos born July 16, 1908.” Also written was “Mrs. Richard Grigson and son.”

Using my newly learned web surfing expertise, I was able to ferret out the particulars regarding the baby. In the Social Security Death Index I found this David, now dead, listed with place of death as Fort Lee, NJ. Using a Yahoo! People Directory I was able to find the son of the baby. I contacted him by phone, told him about the photo, jotted down his address and sent him the photo (What a rush!) This photo reunion would eventually lead to

Having orchestrated the Grigson photo reunion, I started sorting my collection, separating those that were identified from those that weren’t. The identified photos numbered about two thousand. I realized that my searching online to find the rightful descendants with whom to reunite that many photos would be impossible. I realized, too, from my online family research that there weren’t any comprehensive genealogy photo sites with posting capabilities. Everyone, it appeared, had family photos online, but you had to go to each family site to look at them. With this epiphany I started placing photos on my American Online website in an attempt to get some faces with names out there. The site was limited, as AOL could hold only a very small number of images. I finally realized after a few months that I needed to have a professional website company build a site that would hold all two thousand photos.

To my great luck I found Vulcan Creative Labs, a small local startup company that had very talented people. These folks realized my ideas, and in March 2001, after the design, database and internal photo uploading function were operational, the official Dead Fred Genealogy Photo Archive was launched.

We anticipated a very slow traffic buildup over the first year or so, but to our incredible surprise, we were getting thousands of visits and hundreds of emails asking about family photos. One question in particular was, “How can I post my own photos?” At the time we didn’t have a public photo uploader, so DeadFred’s Code Poet (Database Designer) Amanda installed one. Immediately visitors began to upload photos.

Getting this much traffic in so short a time created a happy dilemma: How was I to manage this kind of traffic all by myself? I wondered. I had a full-time position, and I was spending 30-40% of my time traveling. I found resolution by asking the folks at Vulcan Creative Labs to become partners. Happily, they accepted. Vulcan Creative Labs eventually closed its doors in 2006, so the partners could begin other endeavors related to their individual talents and also help with managing

Eric Huber of Mighty Creative performs all the design work and manages our blog. Jeannette Balleza of Scribe Marketing, Inc. works on public relations efforts and copywriting. Amanda Shertzer of Code Poetry, Inc., is our database designer. All are experts in their specific fields and volunteer their expertise to keep alive and kicking. Not to be left out is Tamara Burlingame, who has moderated DeadFred’s Yahoo! Discussion Group for over two years and is well respected by the 1,700+ group members.

Today is getting daily over 5,000 sessions and on average 125,000 page views. Pretty nice statistics for a specialty niche website!

The single purpose behind hasn’t changed since 1998—reuniting rightful families with their ancestor’s photographs. To date the reunions number 1,401. Getting to this point has been rewarding and hard work, but we didn’t get here by ourselves by any means. Much support comes to us from genealogy’s top experts. Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective, has helped us immeasurably over the years with her articles in Family Tree Magazine and especially on August 29th, 2008, when she mentioned on The Today Show! There is also Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak of Honoring Our Ancestors who gave us a much needed grant in November 2002; she has been an invaluable supporter since the beginning. Colleen Fitzpatrick, The Forensic Genealogist, has helped in many ways, and Lisa Alzo graciously has written several very nice articles about us in Genealogy Online & Family Chronicle Magazine. is very much alive because of all these wonderful people, who likewise want to help return orphaned photos back into the hands of their families.

I’m guessing that most of you hate to see these photos lying around and gathering dust. I can’t count how many times I’ve received emails from people telling me how sad they are to see these photos stuffed in boxes in antique stores, in flea markets or tossed into the trash because the owners didn’t know what to do with them. It is sad, but the happy part is that there’s a place now to put them where they can be reunited and also enjoyed by future generations.

In addition to being heirlooms that need to be reunited with their families, these photographs are also a collective living pictorial remnant of history. They capture a nano-second in time that are now years past, keeping that moment in front of us to enjoy or ponder. My favorites are those to which I can personally relate:

Image 1

Image 2

The unidentified photos above are from an album I acquired, comprised of photos taken in the early 1900s near Shenandoah, PA. My grandmother was from Shenandoah, PA. Maybe she knew these children? I like to think so. Perhaps she passed them on the street on occasion. Regardless, what I see here is fun captured almost 100 years ago. I absolutely love it!

I hope some or all of what I said above interests you enough to visit and possibly submit a boxful of your photos. They don’t have to be orphaned photos; they can be images of your own ancestors that you might like to share with unsuspecting cousins you have yet to meet! Who knows? Maybe you have a photo of my brick-wall Grandmother Mary (McIntyre) Bott who died in Philadelphia in 1919, and maybe I am one of those unsuspecting cousins ‹fingers crossed›!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Joe, for a fabulous article. I love the "back story" to DeadFred. Thankfully, my grandmother Arline was obsessive about identifying the photographs in her collection. Most are labelled on the back in her spidery handwriting. I think she found great comfort in doing this as she grew older. Something to remember for all of us -- an easy, free hobby. We already have the pictures!

Thanks again for all you do to reunite photos and families.

September 12, 2008 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Terry Thornton said...

JOE, Thanks so much for DeadFred! And thanks for this look into how DeadFred came to life. Congratulations on the success of your venture --- and thanks for the valuable contribution you and your work is making to the fields of genealogy and family history.

MAVEN, Thanks for hosting such an interesting series. I'm learning so much about so many interesting researchers and experts. Thanks for showcasing their talents.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

September 12, 2008 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Lidian said...

What a terrific site and a great post - I had heard of DeadFred but didn't really know about it and the amazing work you do. Thank you so much!

September 12, 2008 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Thomas MacEntee said...

Thanks Joe for this post - I too enjoyed the background information. I think sometimes because the Web is so quick, and feeds us information in mere seconds, we forget all that goes into developing a winning website and niche concept.

September 12, 2008 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Chuck Courtwright said...

An inspiring story, Thank you Maven for hosting Dead Fred's story. I am in the 'never-ending' process of scanning someone's photo's to post on Dead Fred. The 'named' photo's will go on the CCGS website, which I am a member.
It's a lot of work, and with inspiring stories such as this I know I/we can help others discover some of their families.
and Thanks to you Joe!

September 12, 2008 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger my Heritage Happens said...

This was a wonderful post, so nice to get to know the makings of Dead Fred! You have a wonderful site and are doing great things! Thank you for sharing with us and thank you to fM for having this avenue! Great work all the way around!

September 12, 2008 at 11:34 PM  
Blogger Nikki - Notes of Life said...

Thank you for writing this most interesting article. I have a box full of photos, some of which we can identify, others we can not.

I had heard of Dead Fred and have visited the website on a few occasions. Great work! :)

September 13, 2008 at 5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog and tagged you.

Details at

September 14, 2008 at 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You! I appreciate all your wonderful comments.

December 11, 2008 at 10:29 AM  

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