In February 2021, Weelunk, Archiving Wheeling, and the Ohio County Public Library teamed up to reach out to the Wheeling community to identify unknown people in historic photographs. History’s Mysteries is a digital crowdsourcing project that solicits photo identification help from the Wheeling community. Every month, we have published five photos asking for your help in figuring out people, places, and things—and you delivered!
When we started this project, we told ourselves that even just one identification would make this project a success in our book. One identity, one story, one life remembered would be worth it. However, during the first four months of the project, we have been able to identify 41 individuals! That is 41 more partial stories we can tell and identities we can restore to the historic photo collection in the library’s archives. In addition, people shared their memories and stories of the people or the organizations that were featured. In a few cases, people recognized their mother or grandmother in photos that they had never seen before. All it takes is someone with the right key.
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Submissions usually consisted of individual people recognizing a person here or there, sometimes a couple at a time. Understandably, more recent photos, such as the 1970s Girl Scout photo or the 1970s/80s nursing photos, are more popular. However, occasionally, we hit a jackpot. March’s Women’s History Month edition caught the attention of Joyce, who belongs to the First Christian Church that was in one of the photos. Even though the picture was from 1918, she recognized it as a duplicate of a photograph the church had in its history book. Amazingly, their version of the photo had names written under several of the women. Cross-referencing the photo with the 1916 church directory, Joyce was able to identify a dozen people!
Due to crowdsourcing, everyone in this photo has now been identified! Nurses assist physician, 1962 (Courtesy of the OCPL Archives)
Loyal Women Group of the First Christian Church of Center Wheeling, c1918. Before History's Mysteries, the Library knew no one in the photo. Now, we have full or partial names for everyone circled. (Courtesy of the OCPL Archives)
The project has proved valuable and engaging even for the people who don’t happen to know anyone in the photos. Community members have told us about how the project has encouraged family conversations and discussions about local Wheeling history. During the time of social distancing and fewer in-person events and programs, History’s Mysteries brings local history right to the community’s home.
Want to help? Continue to check out Weelunk every month for more History’s Mysteries and share with the community. You can also always go back and check out past editions, here. We are always trying to fill in the historical gaps!
• Emma Wiley, originally from Falls Church, Virginia, was a former AmeriCorps member with Wheeling Heritage. Emma has a B.A. in history from Vassar College and is passionate about connecting communities, history, and social justice.