“I consider myself a rescuer,” said Donadio, 77, whose Everett home is filled with the best of her garage-sale finds.
A treasure hunter, she buys old furniture, art books and dishes that match the ones her grandmother used — mostly at local yard sales. With a knack for vintage decor, she puts it all together in her renovated 1915 house.
For at least 15 years, Donadio also has been collecting old photographs. Many of them turn up in “free” boxes at garage sales or estate sales. Most of the old images she has are professional portraits, black-and-white or sepia. Some date to 1911.
Spreading pictures on her dining room table, Donadio explained last week that at first she wanted them for their elaborate paper frames and envelope-like covers. Among her favorites is an Art Deco-style paper cover, likely from the 1930s, that opens to reveal a baby photo. It was taken by a photographer in Linton, North Dakota.
She planned to remove the old photos and use their frames for images of her own relatives.
“I thought I would take them home and put pictures of my grandparents in them,” Donadio said. “I bought them for the frames, but when I got them home I fell in love with them. I would look at these people. I like them, I really do.”
There’s a glamorous woman, smiling in her full-length gown. In a demure pose, a girl appears dressed for a party. “I want her shoes,” Donadio said. She especially likes a professional portrait of three children. Looking at their modest clothes and simple hairstyles, Donadio believes they didn’t come from wealth but were “very loved.”
Though she found the photos in Everett, Donadio said many of them were taken in other parts of the country. One, an image of two serious-looking young men, is a postcard. “People may have moved here, or family sent them a photo,” said Donadio, who grew up in southwest Washington, but later moved to Oregon, New York and California before settling in Everett.
She hasn’t contacted local libraries or museums to ask if they want the pictures. Except for one picture of a baby with an inscription, “Merry Christmas, Dwayne Gillespie,” the photos have no names. None show historic places or recognizable views of early Everett.
Donadio wishes she could return all those faces of the past — the babies, children and formal-looking men and women — to their families. Even if she could find descendants, she doubts they could identify the people pictured. Donadio, whose mother is 101, said she would recognize her own grandparents in long-ago pictures, “but I wouldn’t know my cousins.”
That problem has a solution. If nothing else, Donadio suggests that anyone with a stash of family photos take time to note the identities of people, along with dates, ages, places or any other information.
Someday, someone in the family will appreciate that information, and will perhaps save the pictures because of it.
For her own three daughters, Donadio has started putting pictures for each one in a separate folder. The National Archives website offers tips on preserving family photos and documents.
Donadio has traveled the world, and has the keepsakes to show for it. “I’ve been to China’s Great Wall with my mom. I’ve been to Paris, Rome, Korea, Istanbul and Egypt,” she said.
She delights in souvenirs, books and artwork from her trips, but also loves the faces she found cast aside in Everett.
“They were living people,” she said. “I’m starting to get very nostalgic for them.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Archives website offers tips on preserving family papers and photographs. Find out how to properly save, display and digitize pictures and documents at www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives