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Photos found in dresser bought in online auction are found to belong to a family in Guelph

'I know the first thing I would take out of my house in a fire are my family photos'

It’s not everyday you find several photos of someone else’s family in furniture bought online, but that’s exactly what happened to one Guelph woman.

“I was surprised,” said Carolyn Hutchinson, who owns the dresser. “We were moving the dresser into the new house and the lid popped off ... there flew out about six photos.”

The photos depicted a family between 1955 to the 1960s. Hutchinson explains she and her husband received the dresser several years ago, but never knew about the photos hidden in it.

“A friend of ours knew we were looking for a dresser, and he was often on auction sites," she said, "and he said he found one, and he would bid on it for us, and we could just come and pick it up."

After finding the photos, Hutchinson remembered a story in 2020 about a Guelph man who returned an old letter he found behind a wall in his home.

“Right away, I thought about the family that was missing these photos and what it could mean to them if they had them returned,” she said, noting she then decided to post the photos on Facebook in an attempt to find the rightful owners.

Less than two hours after posting the photos, Hutchinson discovered they belonged to a family living in Guelph. A cousin from the family responded to the post, along with a woman who is the daughter of one of the women in the pictures.

“She was just thrilled and very anxious to come pick up the photos,” said Hutchinson about Kathy Karn McNeil.

When McNeil saw old photos of her family on Facebook, she said it was "really bizarre."

“It was quite a shock,” said McNeil, “I was literally just scrolling Facebook on Saturday night, and saw this quick post about pictures found, and never thought anything of it, and I'm looking a little bit closer and I'm like, ‘That’s my uncle!’”

“I looked again and was like, ‘That’s my sister and my mom, and I was like, 'Oh my God!’ I honestly couldn't believe it.”

One of the photos depicts McNeil’s mother, Jean Karn, and her sister, Peggy Karn. 

“It was overwhelming because the one with my mom and my sister I had never seen before,” said McNeil, who kept that photo and gave the rest to her cousin, Joe Karn.

Karn said he was surprised to see the dresser and the photos on Facebook.

“I recognized the dresser, that was my mom’s dresser, and she always had all the pictures in the top dresser,” he said. “It was weird that they found them.”

After his mother’s death, Karn mentions his father sold the dresser in a set in 1976.

“I thought I had seen it somewhere before,” he said. “It looked familiar, but I just never thought of it. When they said they found pictures in it, I knew whose dresser it was.”

As the only living member left in his family, Karn adds he is happy to have the photos back. He plans to organize all the family photos he has collected from his eight siblings.

“I’ve just got to get them all together,” he said.

Reflecting on the experience, Hutchinson said the photos could have come from anywhere in Ontario.

“I thought I was going to have a difficult search, but it turned out to be a Guelph family,” she said.

As for the dresser, Hutchinson mentions it still sits in her bedroom with the lid nailed back on, and an interesting story to tell.


Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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