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Charity Shop Postcard Find

I've been volunteering in my local Oxfam shop for about 5 years, and enjoy it very much. Part of the joy of sorting donations is finding things which have a "history". That was certainly the case with large albums of postcards and photos which we found just after we reopened after lockdown last autumn.

It was obvious at first glance that these albums were old. The earliest of the postcards was dated 1903, and the photographs showcased the height of Edwardian fashion. All of the cards had been addressed to a family in a small village in County Cork, Ireland.

But whose were they, and how had they ended up in a charity shop in suburban Glasgow?

The names on the postcards were the first clue. The earliest cards were addressed to a Miss Baker, living at the Post Office in Timoleague. Later cards were addressed to Mrs Stanley, and her daughters Maisie and Bessie.

These were enough clues to get going on finding out more about the family. On the 1901 census, Mary Johnson BAKER is listed living in the Post Office at Timoleague with her widowed father, Henry and working as a telegraphist. Also using the (excellent and free) Irish records site I was able to find Mary's marriage, to John STANLEY, in Timoleague on 14 June 1904 and the birth of her two daughters, Margaret Elizabeth in 1905, and Mary Johnson in 1909. The family are all listed together in Timoleague on the Irish 1911 census, with Mary having taken over from her father as Post Mistress. Maisie married and moved away but Bessie continued in the family business, marrying Thomas KINGSTON in 1941. Bessie died in 1977 in Ireland, having lived her whole life in County Cork and without having any children.

By this point, I was getting quite attached to Bessie Stanley. Although I found the postcards hugely interesting, the photographs were a different matter. Family photographs are so personal, and I was keen to get them back to someone in the family.

So what do you do when you're trying to track people down? Facebook! Every village appears to have its own community page and Timoleague is no exception. So I posted the story on the page and asked for help in tracking down anyone who was related to the people in the picture. Many older locals chipped in with stories about remembering the Post Office and shop as a child, and knew Bessie personally. None were aware of any connection to Glasgow. Someone pointed me in the direction of a tree on Ancestry, where some of the names I had uncovered were listed. I messaged the tree owner and got an almost instant response; her father had been the first cousin of the Stanley children and she was so excited at getting the photographs returned.

But one mystery remained. How did Bessie's albums turn up in a charity shop in Glasgow, 43 years after she died in County Cork. The family member had no idea. There are various theories around house clearances and car boot sales, all of which are reasonable. But we'll never know. Whatever the story, I am so grateful to have Bessie's postcards, sent from around 1903 to 1930, through the most turbulent period of Irish history.

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