Monday, September 21, 2015

The Case of Someone Else's Baby Book

The Mystery Book
My mother was a bit of a hoarder, and when she passed away it took us a long time to go through all her stuff. That's not quite accurate; who am I kidding, it's been almost seven years and we are about half done.

In any case, amongst her vast collections we found a beautiful old baby book from the 1930s. One of those classic keepsakes you could buy at the time and fill in with all the wonderful information that your child would love to know when they grow up. It had a spot for a family tree, newspaper clippings, favorite songs, special foods, cards, memories, locks of hair, foot prints, telegrams, and lots and lots of old photos.  A true treasure for those of us in the genealogical world. A real treasure for anyone!

So, the obvious question was, "whose baby book is it?"

It had to be someone related to my mother's side of the family. The names, dates, and places were all from the mid-west plains states of Illinois, Iowa, and Oklahoma. Her mother was one of ten children, and all of them were from that area -- and there were plenty of names to go around, so it must be one of those many aunts, uncles, or cousins.

However, this name didn't make any sense. I didn't recognize it at all, and doing my own personal version of a Google search around my house turned up nothing on the surname.  The last name was McClellan. I was stumped, and I dug a bit deeper and went through my tree again. I found that my great aunt Clara had married a McCurley for a short time, but that really didn't help at all. Mc-anythings in my family tree were pretty hard to find. I mean, I also found that the wife of my first cousin three times removed was a McCoy, but that's really beside the point.  Which is, just who is this baby boy McClellan and how did my mom end up with his baby book?

So I sat there with the mystery, and kept looking through the book. And what a beautiful book it was, with those fantastic 1930's cards collected from the baby's birth and then again from his first birthday. Just beautiful. Pages and pages of the stuff. Baby photos, handwritten notes, and more vintage cards.

Baby Cards from the late 1930s

And then it struck me. My mother had this book because of the cards. Not because she was related to this person. She'd probably bought it at a yard sale or antique store, as she had with most everything in her house.  She was an artist, and these cards were amazing.

She also was a romantic, and I'm sure she had some idea in the back of her mind that she would find a living McClellan relative and return the book to them.  In fact, that struck my memory and I had a very slight recollection about my mother telling me something about finding this book at an estate sale. She had bought it to either do something with the cards or find the proper owner. She hadn't done either.

So, I took up the case in my mother's memory. I decided that I would finish this project for her, and that I would find a rightful owner. Being a genealogist, I started putting together a family tree with whatever information I could find in the book itself.  The tree grew and grew, with the idea that I probably wouldn't find a close relative, like a brother or sister to give the book to -- that would be too easy, and if they were around the book wouldn't have ended up in a yard sale. I also had worries that there probably wouldn't be any children, for the same reason.

Using a variety of resources, including's tools, I started to find cousins on both sides of the baby's family. I didn't find any children. I did find a wife. I kept digging, and I was able to trace the tree back to Alabama in the 1700s. I probably went too far, but I was on a roll, and I ended up finding 13 of his 16 great great grandparents. I did however find out that both of his parents died in my mother's town, so that was indeed the connection.  The baby book had been at one of the parent's estate sales, so it wasn't looking good for any direct relatives.

Once I had a list of all the cousins who were still potentially alive, I then used a fairly standard trick to find them. I looked them up on Facebook. And, I found one. And, what was weird was that one of their Facebook friends had the same first name as baby McClellan's wife. She, at least, looked to be very much alive. And, it really couldn't be true, but in one of photos she was standing next to a man with a somewhat vaguely familiar look about him.

So, I did a little more detective work and found her phone number. A man answered the phone, and within a few seconds I discovered I was talking to the baby boy. The very same baby boy I knew so much about by now! I told him that I had his baby book in my hands, and he was completely shocked and speechless. He was also a little cautious, and there was a bit of silence until he worked up the words to ask me what I wanted for it.
Baby's Foot Prints and Hair

I told him all I wanted was his address so that I could mail him the book, and that I was doing this to help my mother finish a project. Getting it back to its rightful living owner was all the payment I needed.

And that is how his hair and feet made it back to him after all those years.

Thanks again Mom, for some random stranger's baby book! You can consider this case closed.


  1. How wonderful that you found the owner of this baby book! Thank you for doing all of the detective work to help this special heirloom find its way back to its home.

  2. What a great story - fantastic ending!

  3. Hi,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!