Film sparks search for familyVICTORIA, B.C. — Lon Wood couldn’t stand to see the boxes and boxes of 8-mm films go to the trash. Instead, he hopes to one day return them to their rightful owners.
By: Wendy Reuer, The Dickinson Press
VICTORIA, B.C. — Lon Wood couldn’t stand to see the boxes and boxes of 8-mm films go to the trash. Instead, he hopes to one day return them to their rightful owners.
Wood was helping his wife and her family clean out the belongings of her late brother-in-law in 2004 when he came across about 30 reels of film dated in the 1930s and 1940s.
“Since they were just going in the trash, I thought I would save them,” Wood said.
The films were home movies — mostly from vacations across the United States in locations such as New York and California, along with birthdays and holidays.
One film depicts baseball legend Mickey Mantle rounding the bases at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Wood and his wife, Lorrie, began to deduce the movies depicted events in the life of a family named Ryan. They believe the father may have served in the U.S. Navy.
The children — Kathleen, Bobby, Timmy, Pat and James — are believed to have grown up in the area of Oxnard, Calif.
The youngest, James (Jim) Ryan, is who Wood is hoping to find. He believes Ryan may have made his home in North Dakota.
“He was a farmer from what we know,” Wood said.
The Woods were once connected by marriage to Kathleen Ryan, which is how the tapes ended up making their way into their hands. But, since her death, they have not been able to connect with the other siblings.
One of the tapes is labeled “Jim’s first day of Kindergarten” and dated September 1947. Another reads “Jimmy’s baptism, mostly poor except christening, April 1942.” These dates led the Woods to believe James Ryan is around the age of 70.
“It’s a bit of a needle in a haystack,” Wood said. “He has two children, we think, a son and a daughter, but we’re not sure of anything else.”
Wood has done some online research and written letters to the editors of many newspapers around North Dakota, including The Forum, but so far he has found no viable leads on the present-day life of Jim Ryan.
“I guess it’s the curiosity that made me look for him,” Wood said. “And also we recycle everything here. When it comes to recycling memories, well, they’re not our memories to recycle.”
Tom Brandau, professor of film studies at MSUM said it is not all that rare to see films still intact from that era. Still, such films can be a rare piece of history, he said.
Brandau pointed to the old home videos unearthed of President Franklin Deleno Roosevelt visiting a family and using his crutches. During his presidency, Roosevelt rarely allowed the public to see his handicap sustained in a bout with polio.
Brandau said Wood’s attempt to find the rightful owners of the films was “awesome.” He encourages other home-movie makers to retain the original format, especially actual film.
“Recently there has been this push by professionals that transfer film to digital media. I’m incensed by it,” Brandau said.
Brandau said film is likely to last much longer than any digital archives.
“We know if you shoot something with motion picture film and you take care of it, you store it properly, it will be around for at least 100-150 years. Dare I say a couple hundred years,” he said. “We know that media can easily — in an instant — disappear.”
Brandau estimates the shelf life of digital copies to be around 25 years. VHS tapes can deteriorate even faster.
While Wood continues to search for the Ryan he has seen as a child on film, he said he is fascinated by the history in the tapes themselves.
Anyone who may know the James Ryan family can contact Wood by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reuer is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.