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Lest We Forget

Blog post by Randi Richardson

I met Charles Gromer at the Monroe County History Center garage sale in June 2019.  He was thumbing through a thick stack of orphan photographs, those pictures abandoned by their families without identification.  “It’s sad,” I said “to see photos of people discarded without identification and separated from the families that once loved them.”


Above:  Charles Gromer rotates a display of orphan photos in his home on a weekly basis.

“Yes,” he agreed.  “That’s why I adopt them as my own ‘instant ancestors.’  Every week I rotate on display seven different, unidentified photos in and around my home.”

Later in the month I visited with Charles, his wife, Shirley (Mize) Gromer, and their basset hound, Nutmeg, in their home on the south side of Bloomington to see the orphans that Charles had collected.  There in his exceptionally well organized man cave were a number of collections including that of orphaned photos scattered on walls and table tops amid photos, documents and other artifacts assembled from generations of his own family.

Charles opened the door to a credenza to show me an assortment of carefully stored photos organized by category—he especially likes photos of people depicting religious events such as first communions.  He explained how one might mistake a picture of a young girl in what appears to be a bridal costume as actually that of a first communion.  Communion photos typically include some type of religious artifacts such as a cross, bible and/or prayer beads.


This unidentified young girl in her communion dress was listed on Ebay in July 2019.  Notice the bible and prayer beads in her lap.

One of the seven orphan photos on display does not rotate.  It is that of a beautiful woman in the bloom of youth.  Written neatly across the front are the words, “Lest we forget!”


Gromer’s collection of orphan photos are organized by category.

Will your photos become orphans when you pass on?  Or will you label them with a name, place and date and find a home for them so that subsequent generations can be remembered?  Keep the Monroe County History Center in mind for photos of people with Monroe County roots.  The staff can either scan your photos and return the original to you along with copies on a CD or possibly accept your scrapbooks and/or photo collections that include documentation as part of their permanent collection.