I am a lover of things and a collector of stuff.

Ten years ago I started scouring antique malls and thrift stores for old family photos and vintage postcards.  In 2004, I hit the ephemera jackpot when I bought a $10 suitcase filled with artifacts from one man’s life.

Since October of 2015, most of my free time and head space has been dedicated to the Suitcase project.  The creation of a digital artifact for future ancestors of John and Juanita Jones became just as important to me as a chronicle of my journey.  It’s been an eye-opening experience; I’ve learned a lot of interesting historical snippets and have been welcomed by the brilliant, nutty genealogy community. As a fellow nut, I type that with the highest respect.

Although I think about the Joneses almost constantly, I still get out of the house and have a good old poke around in Nashville’s junk shops and antique malls…just in case I hit pay dirt again.

Cue Kenneth Marcom, stage left.


Last weekend, the Gentleman Caller and I were pulled into the 8th Avenue Antique Mall by the musty lure of new (to us) vinyl records for sale.   It’s a superb antique mall, free of the ‘fake-old’ vintage booths that are invading the junk shop space like kudzu.  If you are ever in Nashville, go check it out.

As I wandered and peered around, I spied a photo album jammed under a pile of decaying textbooks on a crooked bookshelf. After squeezing past the drum kit and whacking my elbow on the corner of a 72 key electronic keyboard, I pried the photo album out from under the textbooks. It’s a ring binder with a ghastly padded cover, probably manufactured in the 1980’s. Without opening it, I knew it would have the magnetic self adhesive pages that are so destructive to photographs and documents.

I cracked it open…and that’s not a figure of speech; the dang thing creaked and popped when I opened it up.  The first things I saw were two marriage certificates, dated 1908 and 1929.  Good grief.

That’s when I snapped it shut.

I felt the same stab of guilt as when I found the suitcase; to me, finding personal documents in a public place feels like theft…or at the very least, nosy-parker prying.  It must be a mistake…no one knowingly sells marriage certificates of other people, do they?  Almost certainly the proprietor will confiscate them as soon as they realize their mistake.

I tucked the album under my arm, along with some vintage postcards I had found, and scurried off to find the Gentleman Caller.  He had a stack of vinyl and looked equally as pleased.

At the register, he asked me what was in the photo album.  I tried to send him a telepathic message along the lines of “quit-asking-me-questions-in-front-of-the-cashier-I-am-going-to-get-busted”.

GLARE: “Just stuff.”

Message not received.  Grabby-hands opened the album in front of Mindy, the cashier.

“Get your paws off that!” I joked, my eyes glued to the personal documents now on display before all three of us.


In my mind, the piano player eased off the keys, closed the lid and hid under a table. Playing cards were laid face down on the table.  Hands tickled holsters.

“Your total is $35.  Cash or card?”, Mindy asked.


At home, after spending some time on Ancestry and in the National Archives, I identified the individual to whom most of the artifacts belonged to.  There are also materials that branch off into other areas of the family tree.  The artifacts are now snug inside non-destructive page protectors, much like their acquaintances from the suitcase.

I’ve shared my find with the the local genealogy community, as well as several other groups I belong to, hoping to find someone connected to the Marcom or Hughes families.  I really wanted to get the documents into the hands of a direct or close descendant, so while I waited for the hive mind to respond, I started digging.

From Kenneth’s obituary in the Tennessean newspaper:

Mr. Marcom retired after 35 years with IRS Treasury Department, Army Veteran of WWII, and served 2 years in the Korean Campaign. He was a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic church for over 30 years. After retirement, he was active in historical preservation, and the Antique Business.

His obituary also listed a large number of family members, living and dead. It took a couple of days, but after slogging through ancestry, public records and online obituaries, I assembled a rough family tree.  My detective work concluded with me rolling the dice and dialing the last public phone number listed for Kenneth’s 83 year old niece, Billie.

As you can imagine, Billie was a little perplexed and somewhat suspicious of how I found her number…but she opened up and shared that Kenneth loved antiques, and was the owner of a booth at the 8th Ave Antique Mall.  Billie was in charge of Kenneth’s estate when he passed, and she sold all of the items from his booth to the mall.  It’s possible that the photo album had been untouched since Kennth’s death in 2009 until I dug it out of the bookshelf.  What I had found was Kenneth’s own collection of personal family memorabilia.  It’s unclear whether he intended to sell them in his own booth, or whether Billie just tossed everything into the deal.

I asked if she would be interested in keeping the documents but she declined.  Before you read on, it’s important to understand that I was on allergy medicine at the time, which makes me a little loopy and uninhibited…I don’t regularly attempt to alarm 83 year old ladies at 9pm at night.  I hope I didn’t creep her out even more by referencing her relatives by name and asking whether they would be interested.  She assured me that they would not as she had already tried to offer her extended family some of Kenneth’s records and they declined.  She thanked me for her interest and we said goodbye.


I will continue to share some of the Marcom/Hughes artifacts as a part of my Outside {the Suitcase} series. Outside {the Suitcase} features artifacts from my personal collection of postcards and found photos, which now also includes some very interesting items from the early 20th century c/o K. Marcom.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post about the album: Posted at Sea – From the S. S. Athenia.





13 thoughts on “The Marcom Album – Stories from the Junk Shop

    • Based on the obit, Kenneth did not marry or have children. His siblings did, which is why I could only find a niece. The album doesn’t contain near as much as the suitcase, but there are some interesting prices. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I recently wrote a post about how sad I become when family members sell personal items of others to total strangers and I worry about my personal items and the future. This story about the niece not wanting his things makes me even sadder. At least you are willing to preserve these things.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always read and am in ‘awe’ of your finds and commitment to finding the relatives of the persons in suitcase or photo book. I am so happy you do and while it may seem sad that someone just gave them away (sold or just gave away), it is still a big relief that they didn’t just toss them in garbage or burn as we have heard so many stories about. So, there is always a positive spin, a glimmer of hope and the stories/photos are just waiting to be discovered. Now, everyone–get to those antique shops/malls/ and yard sales!


  3. As I read you say you don’t have children and worry about your things, I thought about all these suitcases you write about …. They have become your kids – your family. I enjoy the reads and as I love going in flea markets I’m always looking for old letter now along with cast iron pans; we collect those!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Even looking back through my own early photos, there are people that mean nothing to me now. If I look at my parents’ or parents-in-laws’ photos, I hardly recognise anyone. I can understand people who don’t want relatives’ photos if they have lived unremarkable lives and they have no particular memories of them. I’m very glad my MIL is writing her family history with selected photos so that the faces do have some meaning. The way you write about your investigations makes it so interesting, a real detective story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It’s a puzzle for me…it almost feels as thought the regret doesn’t kick in until a couple of generations later when younger folks have a better fix on their own mortality and a growing curiosity about how an older generation lived. I also feel that my nostalgia is a bit skewed as I am also a photographer and often reflect on past experiences via the photo record.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, it may be of some comfort to know there are a lot of us “SKEWED” people. ha You have read enough of my posts (various sites) to already understand that I KNOW what I am doing will not be appreciated until years after my death. Not morbid, just the truth. The younger ones are busy building their own lives now and taking those “digital” shots of every tiny thing their child does. I’m not saying this is bad, but I have to wonder if the later descendants will ever get the thrill of finding a real meaningful moment. As in my case, the photo that says “We were All HOME” in Aug 1923 when my grandmother (that died before I was born) and her husband had ALL the 9 children home that had scattered out from the little home place in Madison Co., TN. It is such a special treasure for me and to be able to see my mother (then age 16) and all her sibs–which most I would never know. I also have the old ballads of my Aunt that sang–never mind after a while–they may sound repetitive with her G, C. D, basic chords. The people outside the family actually appreciate them far more than the family at this point, but I am OK with that
        So, just be assured, you have a lot of good company. You don’t even have to have kids to worry about this problem. You just have built up such a wonderful stash of photos/cards/letters/stories— -that it IS hard to think they will just be forgotten and no one will experience the delight and yes, even headaches, you have had with them. Somehow, I am not worried… They will not be forgotten.


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