The Hidden Treasures of Your Ancestors

In the past 5 years, I have obtained treasured objects and photographs that belonged to my ancestors that I never knew existed or imagined that I would ever see or touch in my lifetime.  I have been able to do the same for my wife’s families as well.

What’s the key to becoming an ancestral treasure hunter?

Very simple…reach out to family, network with newly discovered cousins, put yourself out there on different “genie” forums, leave messages on Ancestry Family Trees and message boards.  I will give you different examples of how I was able to find these unknown and hidden keepsakes from the past.

When I began this journey into the past, and doing my first research on my Harris and Hensel families, I was able to get in contact with a cousin, (the nephew of my grandfather, Ralph Miller).  From that first contact, my cousin sent me photographs that I never knew existed, like this one of the graduating class of Lykens H.S. c.1905, which included my great-grandmother, Jane S. (Harris) Miller:

01-Jane Harris HS

He sent about 30 photographs.  Obviously, I can’t show them all here, but you get the picture (no pun intended).

In return, he had asked if I could do some research on his father’s family, which I gladly returned the favor.  Since that time, my cousin and I have been in touch off and on.  One day, in 2014, I get an email out of the blue from him asking me if I wanted something that belonged to my g-g-grandfather, Edward Harris, Jane’s father.  He said that he was doing some cleaning up and had this old bible that belonged to Edward.  I immediately responded with an enthusiastic yes.  He just asked that I pay for the shipping.  I told him no problem.

In about a month’s time, I had the bible.

02-Harris Bible

It was in pretty rough shape.  The two huge hinge clasps on the side, over time, had caused the front of the bible to separate from the rest of the book and there was a major split down the middle of the binding, where the pages began to separate from the binding.  Luckily, the vast majority of the inside pages were in good shape and intact. Some example pages.



This was in the middle of the bible. A declaration of the marriage between Edward Harris and Rebecca Hensel.

05-Harris Bible

After letting my siblings know that I had secured this treasure, my older brother Mike and I discussed getting the bible restored and then giving it to our mother at Christmas of 2015.  I shipped the bible off to my brother, as he had other books restored, and had a place where he had them done.  It took about 10 weeks to get it restored, but the results were spectacular:

06A-Harris Bible

The bible was published in 1875, which made it a 140 year old bible when we gave it to our mother.

An added surprise was this ribbon that came with the bible.

06B-Harris Bible

Since my g-g-grandfather, Edward Harris was on the District 9 Executive Committee Board of the United Mine Workers of America, it makes sense that he would have used this ribbon as a bookmark.

Another example of unexpected treasure happened last year, when I received an email from a woman who lives in Canada.  I had done some research on my wife’s great-grandmother Ada (Riley) Deel / Ash, who lived in WV, and moved to Canada with her 2nd husband, Elmer Ash.  When researching about a year or two before, I had left a message on Ancestry, enquiring about Ada, and her possible date of passing and where she might be buried.

The woman that contacted me saw my posted message on Ancestry and contacted me.  She just happens to be Ada’s grand-daughter.  I was so pleasantly surprised, and we began exchanging information.  I sent her everything I had found out about Ada and in return she sent us these:

A photograph of Ada and one of Ada’s mother, America (Hayes) Deel:


One of the best hidden treasures that was a total gold mine, was a collection of negatives that had been in the possession of my grandmother, Geraldine (Earp) Lentz.  After she had passed, the negatives were then being held onto by my one Aunt.  At the campmeeting grounds in Cleona, PA where we had gone every third week in August since I was a small boy, she and another Aunt were both attending, and the negatives ended up with my other Aunt.  When I caught wind of the fact that she had these negatives, I got in contact with her, and over a period of time, we slowly got them developed.  A total of 356 photographs ranging in a time period of the early 1920’s to the 1950’s were developed of my Earp family, and only a few were bad.

That Christmas, I sent out copies to all of my family, who were thrilled to have this collection of photographs that a lot of them had never seen before.  Below are just a few examples…Enjoy!

09-Earp Family

Earp Family – Great Grandparents William and Edna Earp, Irene (adopted), Great-Uncle Bill (sitting), my Grandmother Geraldine (behind Bill), and a friend of Geraldine’s (Early 20’s).

10-Uncle Bill

My Great-Uncle Bill next to a miniaturized model house.  He looks like a giant! (Late 20’s-Early 30’s).


My father and mother with oldest brother, Doug. Early 1956.

One last example I’d like to share here is, if you are on Ancestry, make frequent visits back to family trees, because you may get an unexpected surprise if you do.   Also free visits to WikiTree may garner you some surprises as well.

I found these just this year and was able to share them with my mother.


My great-grandmother, Edna (Keim) Earp c. 1905.

13-John and Mary (Hummer) Keim

Edna’s parents, my g-g-grandparents, Mary (Hummer) and John Keim.


Edna’s sister, Mabel and brother Samuel.

Remember, there are many ways to find these hidden treasures…

  • Put yourself out there, starting with close family. Ask, and you shall receive (usually)
  • When you make connections with distant cousins, find out what they might have.  They are usually willing to share what they have
  • Leave messages on forums, message boards and Ancestry trees – if you don’t get a response, just move on. Don’t take it personally. Remember, this type of research is a mixture of hard work, fun, excitement, aggravation and disappointment.  Get used to the last two, because no matter how much success you may have in doing your research, aggravation and disappointment usually show up somewhere
  • Contact Local Historical Societies – you’ll never know what they might have in their collections unless you ask
  • Revisit Ancestry Family Trees to see if any photographs of your ancestors have been added. WikiTree is another site that may provide surprises and hidden treasures


Brian S. Miller




3 thoughts on “The Hidden Treasures of Your Ancestors

  1. Congratulations on baiting the cousins and reeling in the big ones. It is amazing how our old posts on the boards, forums, and mailing lists are still being read.
    A tip would be to have ONE email address which doesn’t change. It is really frustrating when you try to contact someone and they are no longer using the same email.
    If you find something you want to use, contact the owner of the Ancestry family tree before you save it. First, it may be low quality and they will offer you a better copy. Second, if they don’t reply be sure to still give attribution to the person and the tree you found it in and don’t share it as if it is your own.
    One reason I don’t share photos on Ancestry is that I don’t want them “taken” without permission and/or attached to trees and individuals they do not match.
    Thank you, Brian, for a great read.


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