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Bob Maxey
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Former Grosse Pointe resident Bill Oliver needs help identifying people in photos that include his mother, Felicitas Voss. The photos are from about 1910, he said, and probably taken at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. He said the academy's staff was unable to help him. Voss is on the lower left.

August 29, 2013
Bill Oliver of Atlanta would like help with an identification issue.

He and his family, descendents of former Grosse Pointer Felicitas Voss, have 70 fading photos of nameless faces, except for Voss.

"I have a photograph album with photos from about 1910 taken probably at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, which include my mother, Felicitas Voss, and many of her friends," his e-mail began. "Mom's best friend was Gertrude Healy, daughter of D.J. Healy of the DJ Healy Shops, and she must be in one of those photo. She comes up in the social register when Googled. Would love to find out which one she is."

The album was discovered in the spring by Oliver's oldest sister, Evelyn. The photos, now a faded sepia, were glued in place and taken between 1900 and 1910, he said.

"They (the photos) were fascinating. Although Mom could be recognized in many, to find out who else was in them and when and where they were taken, required lifting them carefully from the pages with the hope that some clues could be found on the back. Although none were found, it could be seen that of the 70, 26 centered around Mom and her friends.

"After comparing a few of the photos which showed school buildings, with a photo taken of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grosse Pointe today, it became clear that they were taken there. The date (1909) was established when granddaughter, Tish Oliver, remembered she had been given a cross inscribed, 'Felicitas Voss 1909 plus Academy of the Sacred Heart, Grosse Pointe' on the back.

"With a lot of hard work and the help of many archivists, we were able to put together a clear picture of Mom's life during those early years, which was always of interest to me and my sisters."

Voss is not alone is seeking information. For years families have taken photos and dropped them into boxes, secured some in albums and others were framed sans dates, names and places.

The photos fade and those who have information about the photos forget or die.

To preserve those memories for another generation, Grosse Pointe photographer John A. Martin provides advice. He said when cataloguing photos, never write on the back of the photo, never write on the CD or DVD containing photos. The ink can break down, it can leak onto the photo and ink can fade. Using an indelible pen on a CD can destroy the data, Martin said. Also, don't use a sticky note because the glue can destroy the information either on a photo or CD. Instead, he advised, write on the CD's case and store the information a second time on a hard drive.

For photos, "the best thing to do is write the name on a paper with a pen. Frame the photo with the paper behind it," he said.

Martin went on to say, people should emulate an archivist and think about where pictures are stored. All boxed photographs should be stored in a dark, cool and dry place.

"If it's real humid and photos are stacked up, the humidity will affect the emulsion and will destroy the photos," he said.

Rather than storing photos in the attic, place them in a room with a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees with 50 percent humidity. Martin urged people to use a dehumidifier for preservation purposes.

There are things a professional is able to do to restore the not-too-faded images, but, once the photos' images have faded beyond recognition, there is no way to bring them back, he said.

The photographic process, from the camera to the paper, has improved tremendously since the late 18th century when photography began, though the general principle remains the same, he continued. Treating the photos, whether on paper or digital, should be done with thought.

Keeping photos out of direct sunlight and using high quality glass in front of framed photos is a way to preserve memories. "Protecting it does cost more with the UV protection built in (the glass)," he said.

The best way to preserve images is to create a CD, store it on a hard drive and have a backup, just as a precaution because, he said, "everything has the potential to loose data."

So it is with Oliver. He has the images but little written data for his mother who was born in 1891 in Cincinnati. In 1905, her father moved the family to Detroit to build a small factory and 20 houses for his employees in Delray at the intersection of Voss Street and West Jefferson Avenue. Growing up, the Voss's playmates were the Stroh and Ford children.

Voss attend Sacred Heart Academy on East Jefferson near the present University of Detroit law school between 1905 and 1907. Her senior year, 1909, was at Sacred Heart Academy in Grosse Pointe. Following graduation, Voss worked for Gregory Mayer & Thoms and later was a personal secretary to John Mason, president and founder of Rinshed-Mason Paints. She married native Detroiter Ernest F. Oliver in 1922 and they had seven children. She died in 1949 and is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Oliver lived in Grosse Pointe between 1960 and 1970 with his wife, Liz (nee) Dox and their nine children.

Having found the photo album, Oliver said his family "enjoy(s) and derive(s) a lot of family value from knowing about their early ancestors."

To contact Oliver, call (404) 784-3431.

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