108-Year-Old Family Treasure in a Museum

It happens, family collections, heirlooms, treasures are passed from generation to generation for decades until it may reach a time, there are no more descendants to receive the family items. This was the case for the Louis C. McFarlan family of Chester Co., Pennsylvania.

Working as a genealogist and historian, I assist the local Stuart, Florida historical museum in my hometown with learning the background of acquired artifacts.  One additional activity is to watch for any eBay items related to Stuart, Florida.  One morning two new listings for Stuart appeared. The seller had two separate auctions of 4 glass negatives in each lot.  Looking at the copies of the glass negatives and his description, I knew immediately there could be something for the museum.

The images were of several people; men, children and ladies, showing off the variety of fish recently caught, including large tarpons. Looking at the clothing styles, it appeared to be images from early 1900.  Also viewing what was in the background, it looked like Stuart did a hundred years ago.  I emailed the seller asking him why he believed these negatives were from Stuart. He wrote back the name ‘Stuart, Florida’ was written on a glass negative box which held the negatives.

Contacting the museum and using of the sources such as newspaper articles, we ‘guessed’ one of the persons in the photos was Louis C. McFarlan. He had been a long-time winter visitor to the area from 1897 to 1913 from Pennsylvania. However, there was also a William D. McFarlan Jr., well-known in the Stuart area during those same years.

I had the seller re-examine the box and any other information he had.  It appears he had additional glass negatives from Stuart, showing some of the same people in other locations around Stuart.  He sent me copies of those images and I was able to confirm some of the buildings.  I also gave him the name ‘McFarlan’ and asked if he found that name.

Bingo!! He located a note written by Louis C. McFarlan ordering prints of some of the negatives with a date of 1904.  The seller was from Pennsylvania and lived close to Chester County having acquired some 67 glass negatives of Stuart from a recent estate sale.

Using the names Louis C. and William D. McFarlan in  Chester Co., PA, I was able to piece together their family  lineage using census records, obituaries, newspaper articles and property records.  The two men were in fact cousins, both living in Chester Co., in different towns and both were fairly-well-to-do businessmen. William never married and had no children.  Louis had married and had one son late in life.  Several of the photos had a small boy about age 5.

From what the museum had, one image, I was able to determine which was Louis, his son, William M. and wife, Lorena in the photos. However, I had nothing else to compare to figure if for sure his cousin William was in any of the photos. The town’s post master was in several photos which we confirmed with images the museum already had.

With Louis McFarlan’s death in 1913, his cousin William’s death in 1925, Louis’ wife, Lorena in 1962, the only descendant left was their son, William M. McFarlan.  The son never married or had children.  With his death in June 1982, his estate went up for auction and the glass negatives were purchased by a collector in Chester Co.  The eBay seller purchased the collection when that person’s estate was sold recently.

These 67 glass negatives ranging from 1901 to about 1910 were a treasure for the museum which struck a deal to purchase the collection.  Now these images could be kept together, where they originated from instead of being sold off in lots across the country. Added to the museum was the pages of information on Louis McFarlan, his family, siblings, parents along with his cousin William I had researched. A 108-year-old Stuart treasure is saved and back home where it belongs.

In the photo above, one of  the glass negatives, Louis C. McFarlan is standing second from the right proudly showing off a large tarpon.

< Return To Blog Wow, this is amazing! Thanks for sharing this story. I'll search your other post about family tree.
Cathy 21/05/12

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