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Old album leads to geneological investigation

You just never know.

When Joanne Cunningham came up to the office with a little green photograph album in her hands, neither of us ever dreamed it was going to lead where it led.

She’d seen the little album on the table at the Goodwill store on Jake Alexander Boulevard, and she just couldn’t help herself.

“I bought it for a dollar,” she said. “It had pictures in it. A lot of pictures.”

But at first that didn’t matter. She didn’t know who any of the people in the pictures were, but she couldn’t stop looking at them.

Who were they? Where did they live? Are any of them still living? Is one of them possibly a friend and she doesn’t know it?

Her plan had been to put her own pictures in the album, but she couldn’t make herself take the pictures already there out, so she came up to the Post.

The album surely belonged to someone in a Madlung family, she said, because there were so many Madlungs in it, starting with a couple who looked like newlyweds dressed in the fine clothes of 100 years ago. And the years that followed were years full of babies and small children and the same small children growing up, and she just couldn’t throw those pictures away even if she didn’t know any of them.

There were no Madlungs in the phone book.

No Rathers either, even though a Madlung had married a Rather, and they were plentiful in that album, too.

So she bought it.

And after she did so, she just had to hold on to the pictures for a while because they might belong to someone still here.

And she came to the Post newsroom to ask me if maybe I could write a story about it and maybe someone would recognize those names.

“And if anybody knows them,” she said, “and they could give me a call, they can have them.”

But no Madlungs called.

Or Rathers.

But it was a come-on bar none for the genealogists among us.

First, I got a letter came from Kathy Petrucelli, a librarian at Rowan Public Library who has a strong interest in genealogy.

And this was more than she could resist. She headed to Ancestry.com. — and did it ever have the answers.

“You know me,” she wrote. “I can’t let a genealogy mystery go unsolved.”

And she didn’t. In no time she’d discovered that Herman Madlung, born in 1881, was already in the United States when his wife, Bertha, came in 1911 with their seven children and an Ella who was not listed in the 1920 census, so Kathy didn’t know if she was theirs or not. But she came.

They settled in Milwaukee where Madlungs already lived.

“I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” she added, “as to how they ended up in North Carolina.”

And she was immediately ready to share what she had learned with Joanne Cunningham, who bought the album, and anyone else who was interested.

“I love to solve a mystery,” she said.

Nor was she the only one who headed into the genealogy files.

So did Pat Beck, vice president of the Genealogical Society of Rowan County.

And she quickly discovered that Bertha Madlung arrived in New York on May 13, 1912, and went to Milwaukee to join her husband with their children, Ella, 11; Herman, 9; Clara, 7; Bertha, 6; Walter, 4; and Erich, 3.

At that point she hadn’t found the father, Herman, in the immigration files but she believes he came in 1911 or 1912, and he was in Milwaukee for the 1920 census, working as a car loader for a grain company.

Herman, who was 17 by that time, was working at a grain company, too; Clara and Bertha, at a knitting company; Walter, as a newsboy; and Erich, Herbert and Hazel were all too young to work. Hazel was born in Wisconsin, and the family became citizens in 1919.

The 1930 census, Pat wrote, is the last available to the public.

So, she said, “I am not sure if all the 1930 census has been put on the Internet. I could not find the family in 1930, but I believe they were still in Milwaukee.”

She also traced other names listed in the original article and found several who had died on the Social Security listing on the Internet.

And, like Kathy Petrucelli, she said she “really enjoyed checking out this family.”

And both shared everything they found with Joanne Cunningham, who brought all that information to the surface when she bought that album.

But what’s your guess now?

Do you think she’s removed those old pictures and put her own in?

Of course not.

The people in the pictures that are there already there have become part of her family, too.

Contact Rose Post at 704-797-4251 or rpost@salisburypost.com.

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