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In early March, I brought home a few advance review copies of City of Light’s forthcoming books to show my mother. She instilled in me my love for reading, and she loves getting a sneak peek at the books we are publishing. Her favorites are usually the children’s picture books. She is, after all, a retired pre-kindergarten teacher.

But this time was different. Yes she adored the classic fable A Kindness Remembered. And she really liked the educational value of Willy and Lilly’s Adventures with Weather. The Alekizou and His Terrible Library Plot was certainly her favorite picture book of the bunch, with its Suessical whimsy and focus on the importance of reading.

But she was captivated by an art book. In fact, she read it cover to cover in a single sitting. The book she fell in love with was Discarded Ancestors: At the Intersection of Art and Ancestry

Discarded Ancestors is available now on our website!

She sat quietly with her tea one evening, read the beautiful prosetry and pored over the collages that mixed-media artist Elizabeth Leader created using photos from a family album she found tossed in the trash on Marigold Street during one of her walks. 

(That’s right, Leader found an intact family photo album tossed on top of a heap of trash and turned the photographs into beautiful works of art that now hang in many collections and galleries.)

After reading the story of where the photos came from, my mother was inspired. Who might be “missing” from her family tree? Who hadn’t been thought about in far too long?

She began organizing family photos into albums, painstakingly keeping the order through the lives of her three children. But she also began a search. A search for the grave of her step-grandmother, Elizabeth Yeager.

Because she was my great-grandfather’s second wife, my mom knew that Elizabeth wouldn’t be buried with her husband — she wasn’t even sure that my great-grandfather and his first wife were buried together. She was Catholic and he was Lutheran, so it’s likely that they were buried in separate locations. 

As did Leader while investigating the source of the discarded photo album, my mother gathered her facts. She knew that Grandma Elizabeth had remarried after her grandfather died, but that her arrangements to be buried with her parents were made before her second marriage. (Her second husband was an avid boater and he wished to be cremated and scattered into Lake Erie and the Niagara River.) 

Through a series of in-depth searches on Google and FindAGrave.com—the same kind of searches that Leader and her genealogist partners Lisa Sullivan and Natalia Salansky did to unearth details of the Weinzerl and Mario families featured in Discarded Ancestors—my mom found a blog post. 

Some tourists had stumbled across this tiny, old cemetery in Western New York. They took pictures, and they posted them. The bloggers noted one of the few headstones that was new enough to be legible. The surname was clear: YEAGER. 

The first names and dates of death and birth matched those on the little In Memoriam cards given out at funerals. Fortunately she had saved these, albeit in an disorganized fashion.

That very same day, my parents took a long drive to the tiny cemetery in Dutch Hollow, New York. It didn’t take long to find the headstone, and my mother felt as though she’d connected in some very real and tangible way to her past. 

At City of Light, we hope that all of the stories our books tell will inspire at least one person. We especially hope that Discarded Ancestors will inspire many to dust off their family photos albums, tell the stories of who their ancestors were, and preserve memories that only we have the power to preserve.

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