Finding Dmitry
March 12, 2018 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I found an undeveloped film in an old Soviet camera, got the images developed and found 19 black & white photos of a boy and his first day at school. I decided to find him almost 30 years later.
posted by josher71 (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I sometimes get in a cross mood where I'm all, bah, internet technology, who needs it (usually when I'm trying to do something that just won't work). And then I read a wonderful story like this. This is the internet at its finest.
posted by JanetLand at 11:54 AM on March 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I like that it’s a story of people making friends.
posted by ericost at 12:14 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I never get tired of stuff like this. Thanks.
posted by mykescipark at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love this stuff. About 15 years ago I found a diary in a thrift store. It was from the late 1950s or early 1960s, and the little girl who owned it had written in it for about 10 days. Although she never came right out and said it, it was clear from her daily entries that she was seriously ill. (You can read it here if you want.)

A few years after I found the diary, I tried to track down its owner. (She'd written her name in it.) After 8 hours or so of internet research, I discovered that she had died, but I found her sister, who was mentioned in the diary. I managed to get in touch with her and sent the diary to her.

After she received it, she wrote me back to tell me the rest of the story:
I got the diary today. When I saw the cover I realized Shelley and I had gotten similar diaries at Christmas that year. Mine contained about the same number of entries: also talking about American Bandstand, but also about boys in Junior High I thought were cute and how much I hated Jamacan shorts and midriff tops that were popular then along with bows in one's hair.

Shelley was still at home when she wrote her entries in that diary. In a month she was too sick to write anymore, and one day when I came home from school, she was dressed in clothes other than her nightgown and my mother was fixing her hair in ribbons and bows. I was all excited to know where she was going.

"To the hospital, " I was told. I had no idea (or did she, I am sure ) that meant to her death.

Thank you again for reminding me of those innocent days of love and loss.

You will always remain in my heart.
I'm not much of a people person, and I tend to keep my circle really small. That said, I think there are threads that bind us together, as humans, as thinking and feeling people with hearts. More often than not, I tend to look past those threads, or pretend that they don't exist. But then, every once in a while, one appears in an unexpected place and catches the light. Those are the best ones, and being able to observe them now and then is a nice little gift from the universe.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:29 PM on March 12, 2018 [62 favorites]

As I was looking at the photos, I was trying to imagine what Dmitry would look like as an adult. Because of the intensity of his expression in those photos, I pictured a man who was hardened and reserved, with a steely gaze. A soldier type. I was definitely not expecting the good-natured, affectionate man who showed up!
posted by HotToddy at 1:12 PM on March 12, 2018

Finally a Russia story that doesn't involve you know who, they're mostly people just like us.
posted by Damienmce at 1:41 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I collect cabinet cards. In some cases I can date the photos to the date they were taken, and in rare cases to the person as well. It's amazing what you can figure out with only an image, the town, and the photographer. Cabinet cards are easy to date within 5 years (typically). Given even a bit more information, you can figure out who the person is from census data or or one of dozens of other sleuthing methods. I like the imagery, my partner likes the research, so in handful of cases we've been able to do complete biographical workups of the subjects. In some cases I own a whole slew of photos of the person or their family. Once or twice I've thought of reaching out to their descendants, but one of the times I tried, it did not go well. (He ghosted us once we offered him the physical photos).

I am guessing people are untrusting when a stranger from the internet contacts them and says, "Hey, we did a shitload of research into your family just for kicks." In some cases I am reluctant to do this because I acquired the cards at considerable cost, and put a lot of time into verifying provenance and accurate genealogy. I'd be hard pressed to ask for compensation, but at the same time would feel it unfair to let the cards go without. Most of the stories are fairly tragic. Stories of suicides, infant death, illness, marital affairs, and such, that make me reluctant to reach out to the descendants. "Hey, I have this photo of your great-great-grandma. Did you know her grandson, your grandfather, committed suicide when your dad was just a baby?" or "This was your great great great grandfather's first wife. She died of consumption a year after her infant son died of cholera. I even found her grave site and they were buried together! Do you want the card? I paid $20 for it."

Historic records are often unkind.

Sometimes there are no surviving descendants, or there are so many I am at a loss on who to contact. Getting people in touch with their family history isn't really my hobby either. I've sometimes sent PDFs of the images and research, but more often than not I get no response, or in one case, basically told the person had no interest in either images or the research. I've never broached the idea of selling them the cards or asked for money. Usually it's just finding contact info and sending them the PDF. I figure if they wanted more they would ask, but so far none have.

99% of the time I have no idea who the people are. All that has survived is the singular image, taken over a hundred years ago, and all that can be known is what is in the photo itself. No town, no photographer, no date or name. Only the subject's dress and a best guess for the date of the card. I have hundreds of these photos (and I want more). It kills me that a whole life can be reduced to a collectible card, sold on eBay, and that is all the legacy that is left.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:54 PM on March 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

A bunch of years ago I bought a cardboard suitcase full of snapshots at a rummage sale-- about 400 photos, from the 30s to the 60s, of the same family. I scanned the photos, and eventually managed to track down one of the family's daughters and get the originals back to her. She was so delighted to have them, and I still have the scans, so I feel like everyone came out ahead on that.
posted by nonasuch at 2:53 PM on March 12, 2018

I love, just love, stories like this. This is the best thing about the Internet-bringing people across time, space and culture together.

A decade ago I bought a box of travel ephemera from a local used bookstore. The box contained maps, town plans, guide books and tourist brochures and pamphlets. But it also contained hand-written notes, itineraries and receipts, and they all belonged to one person named William.

I've now spent several months trying to recreate William's life from the contents of the box (I even posted an AskMeFi question about it here). What I've learned is that William had an amazingly interesting life.

He went to Caltech. He served in India during WWII. He got a Ph.D. and later studied under TWO Nobel laureates. He was at Princeton as well as two German universities. He traveled extensively throughout the US and Europe. He liked to ski. He liked wine with his dinners and eggs with his breakfast. He attended avant-garde movie night in Heidelberg in 1956 and watched Un Chein Andalou. He had to buy an new car battery somewhere in the south of France.

Then, interestingly, after the box ended in 1964 when he was 40 or so there is virtually no information about him. Aside from a few letters in the local paper or a physics journal - simply nothing. He died in 2012 and left behind no family. His closest relative is a nephew somewhere out west (I think). I'd love to give him my box (and ask about William's later life), but am more than a little apprehensive about trying to email him.

BTW-IYI here is a draft of my story about William.
posted by codex99 at 4:04 PM on March 12, 2018 [9 favorites]

That the search stagnated until he contacted a Russian photo magazine is a reminder that thanks to language barriers at the very least, the internet isn't quite a unified global village. One way or another, there's still walls.
posted by BiggerJ at 3:56 AM on March 13, 2018

reaching out to their descendants, but one of the times I tried, it did not go well.

Some people just don't want that connection and see it almost as a burden. I never really understood the attitude personally. In my family, my sister is like that. About 20 years ago, a researcher called my sister about our family (we have a fairly rare and unusual family name) regarding some research he had done about our family name. Unsolicited of course and he had no connection to us. He wasn't looking to sell what he had or anything like that but likely was just looking for an exchange of information, to fill some blank spaces in his family history. She brushed him off and mentioned it vaguely once to me. I was irritated that she had done that - she just shrugged.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:45 AM on March 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Loved this. Politics aside, we're all only human after all...
posted by Hanuman1960 at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2018

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