Several years ago I bought some old photos — which arrived with a huge packet of other snapshots I hadn’t expected. These black-and-white “bonus” pictures obviously came from a family album of the 1920s, and are now nearly a century old. And that was the start of trying to unlock their mystery!
Most of these old photos were unlabeled, but a few names were sprinkled here and there. One cryptic caption in particular became the starting point for my hunt to learn more about these great images: “Grandma [and] Grandpa Spielvogel.” There’s Grandma, looking a little frail — and a good bit out of focus. And there in the background stands Grandpa in his suspenders, still hale and hearty though perhaps in his 80s.
And then there was this nostalgic scene — evidently Grandma and Grandpa Spielvogel’s family farm. This one, at least, was marked with a location: Prescott, Michigan. (And you’ve got to love that car!)
There were other pictures, too, with partial names as tantalizing clues. Here is a fascinating image of Aunt Anna and Uncle Otto. Between them is Harley, roughly ten years old and leading a horse. And there’s an affectionate Paul and Mildred, big grins on their faces and holding pails as if they were just out for blackberries.
Spielvogel is a lovely German last name meaning “songbird.” But these photos definitely weren’t singing much information about their original owners!
I tried reaching out on the internet to every modern Spielvogel whose email address I could find — with zero success. A few photos mentioned sites in Ontario, so I tried local historical societies and even an Ontario genealogical group, but came up equally empty-handed. Finally, a friend plugged the Spielvogel name into Ancestry.com– and BINGO!! Finally, we have Grandma and Grandpa Spielvogel’s first names!
He was Paul Spielvogel, born in Germany in 1856. And his wife is Paulina Newbower Spielvogel, born in 1858, also in Germany. Paul and Paulina were the proud parents of four children: Elizabeth, Paul, Anna, and a girl named Bartlair. Grandma Paulina, it seems, was indeed frail; she died in 1929, just a few years after her picture was taken. Grandpa must have missed her terribly; he died in 1930, the very next year after Paulina passed away. Both are buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Whittemer, Iosco County, Michigan.
And with that small beginning, the story behind the photos began to come together! “Aunt Anna” was one of Paul and Paulina’s children, born in 1882. Otto was Anna’s husband — Otto Charles Fuerst. And Harley was Anna’s and Otto’s son.
But exactly which Spielvogel descendant once owned all these wonderful photos? We still don’t know for sure.
Son Paul married Mildred Alstrom, and they seem to have ended up in Detroit. Daughter Elizabeth married a fellow named Wayne. Bartlair doesn’t seem to be in the later picture. So if Anna was an aunt, the mystery photographer was likely a son of either Paul or Elizabeth — but who was he?
We know he liked to travel; there are snapshots of the U.S. Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925 (then a wide-open street lined with Tin Lizzies). There are references to Mt. Vernon, Virginia and Lexington Avenue, New York. And there are photos taken in Vancouver and Bay City, Belle Isle and Island Lake.
A few more names are scrawled as possible clues: There’s Lillian Tuckey and what might be her sister, Florence. There’s a smiling Ruby and her beau, a young gent named Claire. There’s Leo with a hunting rifle.There’s a dapper lad with glasses named Lou. And here’s the best clue of all: a photo of “Herb and myself.”
But who exactly was the mysterious photographer who once owned these wonderful family photos? And most important, does he have any descendants who would love to have them back?
They say that there are just six degrees of separation in this world — between friends, family, and friends-of-friends, we’re all connected. So we are reaching out to ask for YOUR help!! Do you know any Spielvogels? Anyone named Fuerst, or perhaps a contact near Prescott, Michigan? To someone, these nearly-one-hundred-year-old family photos would be a priceless legacy.
We’d love to find a way to get them back home!! Please let us know if you can help — and feel free to forward this post to anyone else who might know!