Communication and Marketing

Student connects stranger with lost family photos

When Joe Kastely received a call from an Alma College first-year student he had never met, he was more than a little skeptical.

The student, who identified himself as Lucas Hartwell, told Kastely he had recently come into possession of hundreds — if not thousands — of photographs that appeared to feature Kastely’s family, going back more than 100 years. Hartwell said he saw the name “Joe Kastely” printed on the back of one photo, searched the name online and found his phone number.

Using his cell phone camera, Hartwell took a photo of one of the photos and sent it to Kastely, who confirmed Hartwell’s hunch. Within days, the two met up at a parking lot near Brighton, Michigan, and the young collector handed over the bounty of records to a very grateful Kastely.

“I’ve been collecting photos for a few years now, tying into my interest in military history. I’ve donated some of the photos I’ve found to museums and people doing research into various topics. But I’ve never had a story end quite like this,” said Hartwell, a Grand Blanc, Mich. native.

Hartwell explained that he recently started a Facebook account, primarily to use the Marketplace feature. A longtime volunteer with amateur archaeologists in Michigan, Hartwell says he uses Facebook Marketplace to buy photos and other historic memorabilia from people around the state. For about $50, Hartwell could buy an enormous collection of what appeared to be photo albums for a family based in Michigan.

Hartwell combed through the photos, looking for identifying information. On one of the newer photos, which appeared to depict a man graduating from the University of Michigan in the 1970s, he found a name, “Joe Kastely.” On a boxing website — Kastely is the head chief of officials for amateur boxing in Michigan — Hartwell found his phone number. So, he made a phone call that had the potential for awkwardness.

“People can get information from the internet in various ways that would blow you away,” said Kastely, 65, of Ann Arbor, Mich. “They can find peoples’ backgrounds, family members, like it’s nothing. So, I was curious — you don’t get this kind of spam phone call every day — and I still wasn’t truly convinced he was legit.”

However, after Hartwell sent Kastely the cell phone camera photo, Kastely became convinced, and the two arranged a meeting.

“The photos are invaluable to me. I can’t thank him enough for the detective work,” Kastely said.

Story published on February 02, 2022