Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

Determined genealogists looking to scale brick walls in a single bound may find help at Dead Fred: https://deadfred.com/. Something of a long shot, this free photo archive offers a low-risk way to search for lost ancestors.

Begin by searching the Dead Fred’s database of historic photos for any that may pinpoint your ancestors’ lives or locations. You can search for a name, place or keyword within a range of dates. Suggested time periods range from 1835 to 1960. Among the archive’s materials are educational institution annuals including several University of Wisconsin yearbooks from the 1880s.

With less than 150,000 records on file, the chance of finding a clue to your family history is still relatively small, but as this website grows, so will your possibilities. If you find a lost ancestor, you’ll feel as if you’ve won the lotto.

You can increase your chances of success by uploading your own mystery photos. Maybe the questionable image Aunt Harriet gave you or the unknown gentleman in a 19th-century album. Your uploaded photo is your ticket to the prospect another genealogist may recognize your mystery man, woman or child.

Dead Fred is the full-time retirement project of Joe Bott of New Jersey. An avid photograph collector, he began the photo archive as an avocation while still fully employed.

The name of his website honors Bott’s ancestors who lived in Germany during the reign of Emperor Frederick III. Born in 1831, Frederick ascended the throne upon the death of his father, Emperor Wilhelm I, in 1888. Frederick, who had married the Royal Princess Victoria, daughter of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria, seemed likely to lead Germany in greater humanitarian and liberal directions. At the time of his ascension, however, he suffered from cancer of the larynx and could not speak following a tracheotomy. He never recovered and died in June 1888, only 99 days after beginning his reign.

If, after exploring the website, you want to delve deeper, you can become a Friend of Fred for an annual membership fee of $19.95. This enables you to upload images faster and easier and view all possible reunion correspondence sent to you. Membership includes access to and searches of past newsletters.

You can also order the “Desperate Genealogist’s Idea Book: Creative Ways to Outsmart Your Elusive Ancestors.” It features essays by Bott and other genealogists. Cost to download the 150-page e-book: $14.95.

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Caves, Mines, and Tunnels.” Also available: “Minnesota Underground,” co-authored with Greg Brick. Visit http://henschelhausbooks.com. To share a family history story or suggest topics for this column, email greenknightd@outlook.com