Photo Reunions after Hurricane Sandy

By Maureen A. Taylor

A year ago, Hurricane Sandy stormed into the East Coast of the United States destroying property and taking lives. Generations of family photographs were blown or washed out of destroyed and damaged houses. In the midst of the aftermath and chaos, one woman began focusing on images she found scattered along the shoreline and roads of her community of Union Beach, NJ.

Jeannette von Houten found thousands of images scattered all over the place covered in mud and mold. This rescue effort took time and money. Personal historian Mary Danielsen pitched in to help and the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner Co. provided scanners.

A conservator colleague of mine suggested the team wear gloves for handling the very dirty images and masks to prevent them from inhaling chemicals and mold. Instead of distilled water, cold tap water sufficed to wash the images. This is a delicate task. Immersion in water could destroy the pictures, but with the damage they’d already experienced due to exposure to the elements and water-borne debris, it was worth the risk. Do not attempt this type of rescue without professional advice.

Today, Jeannette and her cousin Joseph Larnaitis continue the task. Out of the approximately 25,000 images found, about 5,000 have been saved. Anyone who lost pictures during the storm should consult the project website, Union Beach Memories.

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Not all of the photos are online. The Union Beach Library has 60 binders of images waiting to be claimed.

According to Jeannette, many families are just finding out about this photo rescue. Let’s help her reconnect families with their photos by spreading the word.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album