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“Photo Angel” connects a 100-year-old Kansas photo with a living relative

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) – A Massachusetts woman has successfully linked a photo of a child over a century old taken in Hutchinson with a relative on the West Coast.

Kate Kelley, nicknamed “The Photo Angel,” started scouring her local antique shops for historic photos a couple of years ago.

Courtesy: Kate Kelley

“I just started buying photos with tags on them and I just started shooting, and I started having success. It was so exciting and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to create a Facebook group and start telling these stories” and before I knew it, the Boston Globe was calling me and then the Today show. This is taking a bigger life than I expected,” Kelley said.

That “life” recently linked an 1890s childhood photo of Archie Leon Shepard of Darlow, Kansas to his great-granddaughter Lani Black in Washington.

“I was very surprised to see that there was a message last November from a lady claiming to be ‘the angel in the picture’, and I thought maybe it was a hoax,” laughed Black. “I looked it up, and sure enough, it was real, and it actually had a picture of my great uncle.”

Shepard’s photo has his name handwritten on the back. She also had Hutchinson’s photography studio and location stamped on it. Kelley used that information and a couple of ancestry websites to find Black.

“I cast a wide net. I reach out to as many people as possible who have posted a (pedigree) tree about the person I’m researching,” Kelley explained. “My rule of thumb is that I mail it back to the person with the closest relationship to the individual pictured.”

Black, a genealogist herself, said the photo helped her learn more about her family’s history. Kelley was able to share Shepard’s birthday, her spouse’s name, and her career as a sign painter with Black.

Black later learned from his mother that Shepard owned a sign-painting business known for painting billboards in the Wichita area.

While finding and linking long-lost photos is nothing new to Kelley. She said that whenever she can do it successfully, she is filled with joy.

“Simply put, I do it because it feels so good to help people piece together their family history. I get so emotional when I talk about it because it’s a calling, really, it’s a calling,” Kelley said.

Black recently received Shepard’s photo in the mail. She plans to frame it and put it somewhere special in his house.

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