20 September 2022

Passion, research and Region Media help solve the mystery of old album

| Sally Hopman
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At peace: Research has uncovered the final resting place for Alfred Sanders, who is featured in the old postcard album, to be the Grenfell cemetery in central-western NSW. Photo: Supplied.

A long-forgotten album brimming with family history will be returned to descendants on the other side of the world, thanks to the passion of one Canberra woman, the research expertise of two Canberra men – and Region.

On 10 September we reported the story of Gabrielle Affleck who bought an old photo album at Belconnen Vinnies, an album she described as “so beautiful it should be in a museum”.

When she took it home and started looking through it, she realised it was more than just a pretty old book, filled with photos and postcards – it was the story of someone’s life – a family’s life.

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Although she had spent $50 on it, she knew it wasn’t really hers to keep, and that she should do what she could to find its rightful owner.

The postcards had connections across the world, but one really hit home, literally – it was the only one with an Australian postmark – to one Alfred Sanders/Saunders care of Bowning Hotel. The other hints among the correspondence indicated Alfred was a blacksmith, had a connection to the British Army and that they all fell within the 1908 to 1911 timeline.

Gabrielle told Region at the time: “After looking through this album, and all the history it contains, it’s really important for me to try to return it to his family.”

After the story was posted on Region we put out a call for anyone with knowledge of the album or the people in it, to contact us.

Tony Maple from the Canberra and Region Heritage Researchers and Gary Kent, keen genealogist and president of the National Trust (ACT), were on the case immediately, contacting Region with their findings.

They discovered that Alfred Sanders was born in 1882 in Fremington, Devon and emigrated to NSW in 1914. A blacksmith, he married Jane Elizabeth Wallace in Yass – hence the Bowning connection – in 1916.

They were to live much of their life at Grenfell, in the Central West of NSW.

The research also uncovered Alfred Sanders’ grave at Grenfell, inscribed: “In Loving Memory of my dear husband Alfred Sanders. Passed away 6th May 1959. Aged 77 years.” Jane died in Strathfield, Sydney, in 1972.

“When I started going through the album, I thought at best, it would involve me driving out to Yass to hand it back to his relatives,” Gabrielle said. “I had no idea it would end up going across the world – to Canada.”

Woman holding album

Gabrielle Affleck with the album she found at Vinnies Belconnen. It will soon be on its way across the world, back to where it belongs. Photo: Steven Kierath.

The Canadian connection came via Alfred’s sister Emily, who migrated to Saskatchewan where she married James Welch. It’s this link that helped Gabrielle track down the family she believes should be the rightful owner of the album. It will go to Emily’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“I went through the Calgary phone book,” Gabrielle laughed, “ringing up people who looked to have the right initials. I had to be careful what I said. I didn’t want them to hang up thinking I was a crazy person.”

Thanks to this research, and rather a lot of phone calls to Canada, the album will soon be on its way back “home”.

Gabrielle said when she first bought the book, she would glance at it, mainly at night, and wonder about it. It was only when she posted about it on social media and history buffs like Tony and Gary started doing their own research that “it all got very interesting”.

Old postcards

Some of the picture postcards in the old album date back to the early 1900s. Photo: Gabrielle Affleck.

“Once the children went to bed, I would start Googling – and Googling. I really had no idea about the journey it would take me on,” she said.

“I have always been charmed by detective work, now I know why.”

Gabrielle said the descendants of Alfred and Jane Sanders were “absolutely thrilled” when she told them she’d send the album to them in Canada.

“It made that family very happy,” she said. “It makes you feel good to do something positive in this world.”

Gabrielle said she particularly wanted to thank Tony and Gary for their help in solving the mystery. “I simply could not have done it without them.”

And to bring the story full circle, Gabrielle, too, was born in Canada.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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