Five years ago Laura Lang, a Victoria resident, discovered a small wooden chest while tidying up her sister’s effects after she passed away. The box was lined with purple fabric and contained several glass bottles of ink and multiple old photographs. She didn’t know where it came from, but she thought it was interesting so she kept it on a shelf in her house.
Recently, Lang retired and decided it was time to try to figure out who owned the box and return it to the family members. On the back of the photos was information about the professional photographer who took them. They were taken somewhere in St. John’s before it became part of Canada.
About a month ago, she contacted a journalist there to put out a call for information. After the article was published, the reporter was inundated with emails, said Lang.
“It just snowballed,” she said. “I don’t really know what I expected but it’s been overwhelming.”
Chris Morry first heard about the mysterious writing box connected to his family in the newspaper article. Morry and many other family history buffs immediately contacted Lang with ideas and connections.
There was also a letter in the box dated Oct. 14, 1898, inside a hidden compartment of the box. The letter was sent to a Clara Isabelle McCaubry and provided condolences for the death of her husband, Dick. After hearing that, Morry knew right away that he could identify some of the people connected to the box.
His great grandfather, Thomas Graham Morry, was Clara’s third husband. They were married in B.C. in 1930. Clara was 78 when she and Thomas got married. They were childhood sweethearts, said Morry.
Clara had moved from Newfoundland to the west coast to be with her sister after her second husband passed away and Thomas followed her out to B.C., Morry explained.
Morry and the others involved in family history studies across Canada worked to compare the photos in the box with those in provincial archives and in family albums as they weren’t the only copies. This helped to confirm the identity of the people in the photos.
“For people involved in family history, this is a eureka moment,” he said.
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Clara, Thomas and Clara’s sister are all buried at the St. Luke Anglican Church cemetery in Saanich and several of their distant relatives still live nearby.
Clara’s niece, Ethel May Lytton, can be seen in one of the photographs prominently positioned in the box. Ethel’s descendants, who live in Vancouver, sent Lang a copy of her diary which they’ve kept for many years. It provides snapshots of life in Victoria in the early 1900s and mentions services at St. Luke’s, beach days at Cadboro Bay and several street names that still exist today.
The last of the McCaubry line passed away in April, so there are no living direct relatives of Clara. However, Lang is still hoping to give the box to a relative. She doesn’t want it to sit in a closet or in archive storage. None of the relatives who’ve come forward have outright asked for it, she said, but she knows it will mean something to somebody.
Lang assumes her sister bought the box at an antique store in the 1970s but she can’t be sure. Either way, it has taken her on quite the adventure and she’s looking forward to seeing how the mystery concludes.