We’ve all heard of someone tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean. But, the personal letters in our next story weren’t meant for the sea. Now, there’s an effort underway, to reunite one family with their long lost Timeless Treasure.
In 2005, Hurricane Wilma flooded the Keys.
Rob Shaw: “I opened up the gate and all this stuff just kind of oozed out.”
Among the refrigerators and old tires that washed up in Rob and Vicki’s yard was a blue box.
Vicki Clark: “It was a big tupperware bin that was duct taped all the way around. Inside there was another box and that was taped up as well. We opened that up and that was when we found the letters.”
Letters. Dozens of them addressed to a woman named Josephine Swanson, whose family called her Josie.
Narrator: “July 16, 1906. My dear loving Josie. Papa and I have been in Orlando for sometime, looking for a place to move to.”
Vicki Clark: “It was exciting for me because we were reading through them all, and it was the 1800s and our history.”
Some of the letters date back to the mid 1800’s. Many were written in Swedish. All were personal messages between family members.
Narrator: “And when she talks about her beaux in Florida, you tell her they are all married men here.”
Leigh Burleson, genealogist: “It’s completely heart felt. Very personal and there are other letters with more juicy gossip. You know, ‘don’t tell anyone.'”
Genealogist Leigh Burleson is now searching for the owner of the box, which also contained newspaper clippings, calling cards, scrapbook souvenirs and photos.
Rob Shaw: “We were really intrigued by the old photographs.”
Rob and Vicki tried to find the owner. After Wilma, they called a local radio station and even called people with the same last name.
Vicki Clark: “As much as we lost, I didn’t want someone else to lose that.”
Vicki has visited historical societies and tried to find the owners on her own, but last month, she gave the letters to historians at the Key West Library. And Leigh, who helps people find their families all the time, volunteered to help.
Leigh Burleson: “The direction I’m going is to find the children, and their children, so that I can piece it together with what part of the family was living in the Keys during Hurricane Wilma.”
Leigh has pored through the letters looking for clues.
Leigh Burleson: “Josephine was born in New York, and they moved West to Illinois. Apparently, there was a large group of Swedish immigrants in that area.”
She has put together a pretty good family tree, but says it’s important to find the family member who actually saved and treasured the letters, all these years.
Leigh Burleson: “These are important documents for the family. They packed them super carefully for the hurricane, and how heartbreaking to come home and find them gone.”
She says she is probably looking for Josephine’s great or great-great-grandchild. Vicki and Rob are praying these mementos find their way home…
Vicki Clark: “I kept them with me and I would open them up and read them and wish I could find the owner again.”
There were other personal items in the box, and the rightful owner will know what those items were. If you think you might know the family of Josephine Swanson, you can give Key West library a call at (305) 292-3595.
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