The Mystery Lady

You never know what you’re going find when you start digging through thousands and thousands of your grandfather’s old negatives. When I popped open the oldest box labeled “Negs 1949 1950 1951” and started thumbing through the hundreds of 4x5 inch brown paper envelopes I was certainly very conscious of that feeling of mystery. Just what stories lay waiting to be told in these boxes of paper and acetate? One of these stories is very mysterious indeed, and stars none other than my grandfather, Joe, and an intriguing young lady that I now know as “Cyntra Ann”.


The beginning

This story starts when I began the not-so-exciting task of organizing all of those envelopes. As I was sorting through, preparing to digitize the first batch of negatives, I found two particular envelopes that stood out from the rest. These were larger, rougher and, I assumed, older than all the others. They were also unlabeled, unlike the rest. Each envelope contained around 15 negatives of various sizes, quality and condition. From my quick examination of the images I surmised that they were personal photos from Joe’s early years. In fact, given the quality of some of the images, I assumed these were some of the images from when Joe was first learning how to shoot. It’s safe to say these photographs were taken well before the earliest date on the box, and well before his professional career took off in 1946.

At first, I thought the images were mostly of Joe, but I began to second guess that after closer examination. Though it certainly looked like Joe, I was confused why there were a lot of photos of him and this lady with a very young girl — like a family portrait. Joe had never married previous to meeting my grandmother, Hazel, and there were certainly no family secrets that big for sure. Maybe this man was a friend or cousin of Joe’s? Who was the little girl? And, wasn’t Joe the photographer. Who was taking the photos? It couldn’t have been him.

The middle

This truly had me puzzled. I put on my detective cap and did what any good Sherlock would do when unsure of where to start: I called my mom. I texted her the photo below to see if she could confirm whether or not the man in the picture was my granddad. She had to admit that it looked a lot like him, but was not 100% sure. She recommended that I ask my Aunt Betty, Joe’s daughter. She would definitely know.

Betty, like me, was convinced that it was some other man besides Joe. After scratching our heads and throwing back and forth theories on who this man could possibly be, Betty decided to start her own detective work. While she dug up a box of old prints from her parents estate, I turned to ancestry.com in search of clues a possible suspect — most likely a half brother of Joe’s.

With no luck on ancestry.com I get a call back from Betty with a clue. She texted over a photo that looked awfully familiar. Believe it or not, she had found the original print of the image second from above!

Not only did she find the photo, but on the back was written in pencil “Joe Hardy and Cyntra Ann.” The date said it was taken on August 26, 1934. This image was not only of Joe, but was much earlier than I had previously thought. It was also taken before he even met my grandmother. Joe was born on November 8, 1914, which makes him 19 years old at the time of this photograph.

The photos appear to have been taken in front of an old farmhouse that sat on Joe’s family farm. The family called the old home the “Lower Place”. It was barely standing when I was a young boy, and entropy finally won. You’d be hard pressed to find as much as a chimney brick on the lot today.

The original print that my Aunt Betty found.

The (dead) end

Who is Cyntra Ann? And who is that little girl?

The best my aunt and I could come up with was that she was a pretty serious girlfriend of my grandfather and that that little girl is probably her younger sister. Of course, I had my other, more risqué theory, but, let’s face it, in a small town such as Centerville, secrets don’t stay secrets too long. Besides, I’ve found no evidence of any previous marriages. Believe me, I’ve looked.

I really wanted to find out who this Lady was, so, again, I turned to the Internet to explore another rabbit hole.

I’ve spent many hours between Google and Ancestry researching my own genealogy. Always switching back and forth from the two when a tiny clue emerges from the other. One tiny name can dig the hole a bit deeper. One day the hole became so deep that I reached all the way back to when my first ancestor crossed the Atlantic and landed in New Jersey from Kent, England around 1635, eventually making his way to the early colonies of old Virginia. His name was William Shipp.

I sat stuck on that info for awhile until one day another clue popped up which led me a little deeper to the year 1510 where I dead ended with my 12th great-grandfather, Thomas (or Thomae) Shipp(e). (Yes, my last name probably had an “e” at the end since we’re talking about Old England.)

That’s how these things go. You dig for awhile and then you hit a root or big rock and you think you can’t go any further. Sometimes you never get unstuck, but most always something comes along to help you on your journey.

Using the same methods as I’ve done looking for my own relatives, I searched. I’ve tried every possible variation, phonetic spelling, misspelling, respelling of Cyntra and Cyntra Ann that I can think of and nothing, not one clue, comes up. I’ve found some Cintra’s, Cyntha’s, Cynthia’s and Ann C’s, but nothing is a match.

I might never know who this former sweetheart of my young grandfather is, but at this point I’ve become a bit obsessed. Once again, I turn to the wise ol’ Internet for help. I’m hoping that by writing this blog post that something, or someone, will come along to help me out.

Since many of you readers and followers are from the Hickman County region I now ask you to help me out. If you have any clue(s) as to who this lady might be, please let me know. Maybe you don’t know, but your mother or father, grandmother or grandfather might. You can help me write the ending to this story.

To be continued…


This story originally appeared on shippstudio.com on August 19, 2015

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