It’s easy to associate old photographs and letters with musty antique shops, but if you get past that, the person you discover is often young, interesting, or complex. Who are they? What became of them? Beyond a single artifact, little or nothing is known of them.

For instance, I have an autograph album that originated in the middle of the 19th century. The first “autograph” was made in the late 1850s, and the last is a sonnet that was copied in 1889. The album belonged to a girl named Hattie, and besides her friends’ autographs, she used the album as a scrapbook, where she pasted newspaper captions about her friends and acquaintances, including marriage notices, Civil War death notices, and a surprising number of accidental deaths by drowning.

The most interesting thing by far I’ve seen is a 1921 Virginia high school yearbook. It’s in excellent condition, and apart from a few friends who signed beside their pictures, it’s mostly untouched. What makes this particular yearbook so interesting is that it contains a real mystery!

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