St. Louis County property manager Matt Seppo was trying to get rid of accumulated junk in a Duluth nursing home a few years ago when he came across dusty plastic bags with old photos and photo albums inside. Instead of tossing them, Seppo embarked on a personal mission to return them to as many families as he could find.
"That was a few years ago, when the county was starting to get out of the nursing home business and I was trying to go through old county stuff to get rid of," Seppo said. "But I just couldn't throw the photos out. They meant something to some families out there."
The Duluth News Tribune reported that Seppo used tools such as phone books, Google and familysearch.org, the genealogy site of the Church of Latter day Saints.
He's had a couple of successes.
One bag contained at least 50 loose photos, some dating back to the 1890s. Seppo found a name identifying a man in one photo as La Verne Swenson, but he struggled to find out more.
"I even tried to use a magnifying glass to check the number on the license plates of the cars in the photos people were standing next to, but that didn't lead anywhere," Seppo said.
Using the Internet, Seppo tracked down a woman in Port Orange, Fla., who had married Swenson's nephew, Eugene.
"I wasn't sure what to think at first, but he explained himself very well," Julie Swenson said of Seppo. "We have a pretty small family so I'm kind of surprised he tracked us down. . It's interesting to hear how he did it."
Another photo album apparently belonged to Irving Hunter of Duluth, who died in 1947. Seppo did more sleuthing.
"There were postcards in the album sent to him (Irving Hunter) from various people, that's how we got this name and his address in Duluth," Seppo said. "So I looked up the census records and found him in the 1940 Census . and traced that back to find some relatives."
Seppo eventually found Mickey Hunter in Cloquet.
"It was very thoughtful of Matt to chase us down and preserve the photos," Mickey Hunter said.
Seppo is still looking for one family. He has the wedding album for Shirley A. Lilya and Marvin W. Westerlund, married Oct. 3, 1953.
"I've got to think there's somebody out there who would want this album," Seppo said.