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Their photos were in the Dumpster at Sellwood Middle School years ago; we're still looking for them

COURTESY OF SMILE HISTORY COMMITTEE - The Rev. Thomas J. Elkin, and his wife Dessie, shown in front of their house at 1560 S.E. Tenino (then numbered 626 Tenino) around 1908. The Elkin family lived in the home from 1906 until at least 1936This story isn't about a family that is physically missing, but one that has lost the photographic records of its history, dating back to the late 1800's.

This historian is asking BEE readers, especially those with superior Internet skills, if they can assist.

This story began close to two decades ago. In the process of year-end cleanup in 2000, the alert librarian at Sellwood Middle School spotted a pile of old photographs and albums in the school dumpster. She gathered them up, put them in a box, and contacted SMILE, the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood association, hoping that its History Committee might be interested. It was.

After some discussion, librarian Jeurine Marshall and I concluded that the photos had been brought to the school for a class assignment. At the time, middle school students researched and wrote about their family history. We guessed that an unknown pupil swept up the entire collection of family photos, brought them to school for a presentation – and then forgot to take them home.

The teacher probably put them into a cupboard, where they remained – forgotten – for many years, until finally the shelf space was needed.

The name of that long-gone student was not on the collection, so there was no way to trace him or her. Neither were there contemporary photographs in the box that might have enabled the school secretary to identify the student. The most recent photos were from the early 1950's, but we think they may have been abandoned at the school in the 1980's or '90's.

My first step was to sort the photographs and arrange them in chronological order. While collating, I checked the backs for any names; most of them had no identification (let this be a warning and reminder to all BEE readers!) or dates.

The oldest photos, often a sepia color, were "cabinet cards", a process whereby images printed on thin paper were glued to stiff cardboard. Some of these had the names of the photographic studios printed at the bottom or on the reverse side of the card. The surname of the family members in these late 1870's-1890's images was Ball, and the studio was in Paris, Missouri.

COURTESY OF SMILE HISTORY COMMITTEE - In this picture, taken around 1910, the second story of the Elkin house has been enlarged, with two shed dormers added to the roof - probably to accommodate the four Elkin children.The Elkin family was next in chronological order, and it had a long association with Sellwood. The Rev. Thomas J. Elkin, a Baptist minister, was born in New York (or England; obituaries vary) in 1843. Following ordination, he served churches in Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, before moving from that last state to Oregon in 1906. The family settled into a house at 626 Tenino Street (now 1560 S.E. Tenino), and included Thomas' wife Dessie and four children, Arthur G., Edwin T., Theodore J. and Susie.

Apparently in poor health at the time of his arrival in Sellwood, Rev. Elkin served a Baptist church in Gresham before succumbing to heart disease at the age of 62, on April 20, 1911. His funeral was held at the Sellwood Baptist Church, and he was buried in the Milwaukie Pioneer Cemetery on S.E. 17th Avenue.

Both the Rev. Thomas and his wife Dessie were active members of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.), a popular fraternal organization whose meetings were held on the second floor of the building at the northeast corner of Thirteenth and Tenino (Spencer's Antique shop is now on the ground floor; SMILE Station is directly across the street).

The City View chapter of the lodge included activities for women through the Eastern Star and Rebekahs. Mrs. Elkin, who outlived her husband by 30 years, was also a member of the Ladies of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic, an organization that supported Union veterans of the Civil War), the Lavender Club (a local women's social group) and was Past President of the Sellwood P.T.A.

Following her husband's death, Mrs. Elkin and her children remained in their house on Tenino Street for an additional thirty years. When the widow Dessie Elkin died on August 19, 1936, three of her offspring lived in Sellwood; only her son Theodore ("Ted") had moved away – to Oakland, California. Her daughter Susie had the married name of Brown. Dessie's service took place in a local funeral parlor, conducted by the pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Portland, and she was buried in Riverview cemetery, not next to her husband in Milwaukie.

Moving on through the photograph albums, I found that the name of Susie Elkin's husband was Errol V. Brown, and that their Sellwood address was 1525 S.E. Lambert Street. Mr. Brown was active in the City View I.O.O.F., which had at least one float in Portland's Rose Festival in the 1920's (floats were then much smaller, more numerous, and covered with flowers from local gardens).

He may have been an employee of the Southern Pacific railroad – because one album contains a series of photos taken during the rebuilding of S.P. railroad grades and bridges, at places named Isadora, Beck, Scofield, Belford, and Cruzet. There are no photos of Susie and Errol with young children, so perhaps they did not become parents. They were still married in 1956 when Susie's brother Theodore ("Ted") died in Santa Monica, California, at age 48, of a heart attack. At that time, Arthur G. Elkin lived in Sellwood, but the third brother, Edwin T., lived in Los Angeles. EILEEN G. FITZSIMONS - The Elkin house, as it is today.The two photo albums extend the Elkin-Brown family line until the beginning of World War II. There are many small, black and white photos of excursions to Seaside when women wore long black stockings and "bathing costumes" rather than swimsuits (before the mid-1920's). Several pages are filled with pictures of "Uncle Vern's farm" in Hemingford, Nebraska, in 1939. There are tiny vacation cabins at Siltcoos Lake on the Southern Oregon coast, but none of the people are named, and few of the photos are dated.

At the end of a BEE story about this photographic find in the early 2000's I made an appeal to anyone who might have known the family. No response was forthcoming, which may have been because Elkin family descendants no longer lived in the neighborhood; they were out of range of BEE distribution and did not see the story, or perhaps forgot to read the newspaper that month.

A decade has passed since my initial plea. In that time, online information sources have greatly increased. I have received tips from BEE readers in the past about new sources, websites, and databases, and I am hoping that one of you has time for some additional sleuthing.

I would like to return these photos to descendants of the Elkin family, so this is a year-end appeal to BEE readers with an interest in neighborhood history, and who cruise the Internet "autobahn" with flying fingers.

This is a mystery that begs for resolution – and, with your assistance, I hope to write a happy, holiday reunion story! You may send messages or clues to me at THE BEE: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And Happy Holidays!

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