Kindness of Strangers in Returning Old Family Photo

Out of the blue, I heard from “STORMDS2008,” a genealogist from across the country. She had found an old photo at a flea market, tracked down interested relatives – and contacted me to see if I would like to have it.

Wow – yes, I would.
What a kindness.

Photo: Dean and Francis Mason
Photo: Dean and Francis Mason. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

Experienced family historians know how valuable flea markets can be for finding interesting old photos, and those discoveries are made even better when you recognize the people in the photo. This old photo is of my cousins Dean Birchard Mason (1867-1917) and Francis Payne Mason (1872-1922).

When “STORMDS2008” contacted me, I really knew next to nothing about these two cousins born in the mid-1800s. She not only sent me their photo, but forwarded a pile of newspaper clippings telling me more about them and the family. Wow – this was over-the-top kindness.

Both born in Cleveland, Ohio, Dean and Francis were the sons of the U.S. Consular General at Paris, Franklin Holcomb Mason (1840–1916), and Jennie Van Wyck Birchard (1844-1916).
A diplomat – who knew?

I decided to learn more about the brothers, so I searched for Dean’s name in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for "Dean Birchard Mason"
Source: GenealogyBank

This search led me to an engagement announcement about Dean’s upcoming wedding to Alice Luice Peterson (1884-unknown) on 22 June 1905 in Berlin, Germany.

A wedding notice for Dean Mason and Alice Peterson, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 16 June 1905
Source: GenealogyBank, Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 June 1905, page 11

Digging deeper, it turns out that Alice was born in Chile.

Birth record for Alice Peterson
Source: FamilySearch, “Chile, Registro Civil, 1885-1903,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 5 August 2017), Alice Luice Peterson, 18 Nov 1884, Birth Registration; citing p. 5, certificate #7, Registro Civil Archivo General, Santiago (Civil Registration General Archives, Santiago); FamilySearch digital folder 004699251.

Curious about why Dean was living in Germany at the time of his wedding to Miss Peterson, I looked further into the search results from my GenealogyBank search and discovered a newspaper article that mentioned Dean’s title – Vice-Consul-General at Berlin – and his enthusiasm for the metric system.

An article about Dean Mason, Oregonian newspaper article 29 January 1903
Source: GenealogyBank, Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 29 January 1903, page 11

According to the article:

“In one of the most interesting Consular reports that has come from the State Department for a long time Vice-Consul-General Dean B. Mason, who is at present in charge of the American Consular office at Berlin, tells about the introduction of the metric system in Germany.”

I also discovered an article announcing his brother Francis Payne Mason’s wedding to Ermagarde Arville Coffin (1873- ) in May 1898.

A wedding notice for Francis Mason and Ermengarde Coffin, Boston Herald newspaper article 18 May 1898
Source: GenealogyBank, Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 18 May 1898, page 6

Dean B. Mason became U.S. Consul for Algeria – and a newspaper article from GenealogyBank brought the news of his death in 1917.

An article about Dean Mason's will, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 August 1917
Source: GenealogyBank, Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 August 1917, page 5

Digging deeper I found this photo of his grave in Algiers, Algeria, that was posted to RootsWeb.

Photo: gravesite of Dean Birchard Mason
Photo: gravesite of Dean Birchard Mason. Source: RootsWeb, Message Board. Michael Murphy.

I appreciate the kindness of “STORMDS2008” in taking the time to find me – and sending me the photo and copies of the many newspaper articles she found.

Dean Birchard Mason and Francis Payne Mason were simply “names” in my family tree – now I have a photo of them and, thanks to the old newspaper articles in GenealogyBank, their stories have been retold.

Genealogy Tip: Please follow “STORMDS2008’s” outstanding example of forward thinking genealogy and kindness. Flea markets and tag sales can be great places to find genealogical information, like old photographs, journals, and documents. And if you find something a fellow genealogist might appreciate, send it their way!

Let’s document, preserve and pass down the stories of our ancestors.

2 thoughts on “Kindness of Strangers in Returning Old Family Photo

  1. Hi! Fascinating stuff — are you by any chance a relation to the writer F. Van Wyck Mason, whose sons were F. Van Wyck II and Robert Ashton?

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