Connections made, why I love The News

I love a great mystery and I love history.

When the two are rolled into one that also involves a newspaper at the center of the story, I feel like I just won the lottery.

This week, readers were treated to two special stories on consecutive days as Alpena resident Brad Wheelock reached out to The Alpena News to try and help reconnect a box of family history materials with their rightful owners. The box was discovered by his nieces while clearing out the home of their parents. Wheelock knew his brother-in-law regularly attended auctions in Alpena, and theorized the box was obtained from one of those events. The problem was, he didn’t know enough information from the materials, other than they belonged to Wesley and Dorothy King. From that point, he didn’t know how to track down their descendents.

He contacted the Northeast Michigan Genealogical Society for suggestions, and President RoseMarie Guthrie suggested a story in the newspaper.

I love that confidence that Guthrie had in us, and I couldn’t agree more that it made perfect sense.

And this is where the story gets even sweeter, from my perspective.

The article appeared Wednesday morning and, by 9 a.m., the box had been reunited with its rightful owners. Judith Motley, a niece of of the Kings, called Wheelock shortly after 8 a.m. to share with him that she was a relative.

Before Motley had even gotten to start reading her own Alpena News, she had received a call from family members living out of the area who had already read parts of The Alpena News online. They only got as far as the Lifestyles page that morning when they were shocked to read Wheelock’s story and to see the names of their aunt and uncle. They quickly called Motley, another niece, to share their excitement.

It was the perfect ending to a story that just kept getting more and more interesting by the minute.

There are several things from this experience that make me smile.

First was Guthrie’s confidence in us that a story would reunite the items with their rightful owners.Guthrie understood the influence of the newspaper in a community like ours, and the number of people it would reach. Her logic was “spot-on.”

Second, regarding that reach, isn’t it amazing that, before 8 a.m. two of Motley’s other relatives had read the story online — one from Bay City and the other from Oscoda. I know the newspaper is well-read everyday on the internet, but it was fun to hear how the internet, and The Alpena News, played such a key role in this reunion. Whether The Alpena News is read in print, like Motley does each morning, or on a computer, smartphone or tablet, it still is an important part of people’s live each day.

Third, this story reminded me that the most important journalism we do each day are the stories about the community. We may never win a Pulitzer, but, for me, so long as we accurately chronicle the events around us each day, I will be a happy camper. Community journalism is the most important reporting taking place in the United States today.

Finally, it is the little things that matter. This story could easily have been dismissed or put aside by a reporter. On the surface, it didn’t seem too deep. In this instance, my wife, Diane, pursued it because she understood the value it could be to a family member and the fact it was important enough to Wheelock to have had him spend the time he had already spent on trying to track down its owners.

It is the little things that often mean the most. By putting on a Nancy Drew twist to the story, Diane was able to share with readers on two straight days an incredible journey for everyone involved.

And unlike a fairy tale with a happy ending, this conclusion involved real people.

Real people. Real news.

That’s your Alpena News, Monday through Saturday.

Bill Speer can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or 989-354-3111, ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.