A few years ago, the Historical Society of Watertown was contacted by Rosalie Hausserman who informed us that she had about 60 cartons full of packets of photo proofs of families (mostly children) taken by Oxford Studios in the 1940s and 1950s, the Historical Society said.
There were three cartons of photos of families from Watertown, and she and her cousin, David Boyajian of Belmont, wanted to donate them to the Historical Society. They were donating the photo proofs of families from Waltham to the Waltham Historical Society, from Cambridge to the Cambridge Historical Society, etc., and want us to have the Watertown photos. Her uncle Harry, David Boyajian’s father, had been the salesman of the business and these photo proofs were left to David but stored at Rosalie’s house.
David provided a short history along with the photos:
“These photos (actually photo “proofs”) were taken by my late father’s brother, Drtad “Dite” Boyajian of Somerville. He was a state side U.S. Army photographer in Texas in WWII.
My father, Harry Boyajian (of Cambridge) was the salesman of the business, Oxford Studios, which was originally on Boylston Street in Boston, MA, in Copley Square. Drtad (his wife is Sadie Mardirosian) and Harry (his wife is Queenie Shamgochian) were brothers and owned the business. The business was started by the two brothers just after WWII, in 1946.
Both brothers were born in Providence, R.I., to immigrant parents Hovannes (John) and Marguerite (maiden name Kezirian) Boyajian. They are all Christians (as are all Armenians). Hovannes and Marguerite were born in Western Armenia’s Kharpert province and came to America in the 1890s, fleeing Turkish persecution and massacres.
Oxford Studios later moved to Mass. Ave in Cambridge, at two different locations near Linnaean Street. When my father left the business in the 1950s, the agreement was that my family owned and possessed these proofs.”
The Historical Society decided to try to put these old photo proofs into the hands of the families who would appreciate them most.
One of our volunteers, Lynne O’Connell, created a database listing the names and addresses written on the 352 packets of each of the family portrait proofs. Most are of young children, but others have older siblings and adults pictured as well, so she included the number of children, the number of adults, and the number of photos in each packet. Some of the photo envelopes have as many as 20 different photos in them.
The database was uploaded to our website and is available for viewing in surname order or street address order, making it user-friendly for people to search for their family names or addresses.
In April, Watertown resident Millie (McLaughlin) Leitner of School Street saw a copy of the database and wondered if the entry for “J. McLaughlin” was for someone in her family. She contacted the Historical Society and both were thrilled to discover that the photo was of Millie and her brothers when they were toddlers! The Society was very happy to give her the photo.
An email went out to the membership and an article was put in the Watertown TAB (and Watertown News) encouraging the public to check the database for photos of their own families, friends or neighbors. All were invited to come to the Fowle House on Nov. 12, 2016 to pick up the relevant photos. Volunteers were available to look up information in the database for those who are not computer savvy.
Several people attended the event and were thrilled to see and bring home these old photos. Christine O’Brien emailed and told us: “I sent the single originals to my siblings and copies of the group photos to them as well. My sister Mary Ellen said her children got a big kick out of the photos and her husband now has one of her at age 5 on his desk! It was wonderful for me to see the photos of my siblings when they were young!”
Former Watertown resident Bob Sliney said, “I distributed the Oxford photos to my brothers and sister as a Christmas thought. Collectively we got great pleasure out of recounting those days of our youth in Watertown when family mattered and life was simple.” Janet DiBenedetto told us, “At first I wasn’t sure if it was my family until my brother confirmed my aunt and uncle lived on Mt Auburn Street in 1948. Soon as I saw the picture I knew it was them! My aunt lived well into her 90s so I mailed the pictures to one of her sons in a Christmas card and he was happy to receive this surprise.”
Christine Milmore Guinee wrote, “Finding out about these photos was exciting. I knew they were photos taken before I was born, but not knowing what they were photos of piqued my curiosity. To see my Mom’s handwriting on the outside of the envelope was special. The photos were of my brother, who is deceased, and of my sister when they were young. My sister and I are thrilled to have these beautiful photographs.”
So far, 32 packets of photos have been given to the families. Several were shipped to people who no longer live in the area. (The small shipping charges were paid by the recipient).
We still have 320 packets that have not been claimed. The Historical Society is eager to return more photos to other families. The portrait proofs are being offered to families for free – no charge. Enlarged, framed prints of the photos would make very memorable gifts.
Please visit our website at www.historicalsocietyofwatertownma.org and go to the Resources page. Under the Oxford Studios Family Portraits there are links to the databases/spreadsheets.
For more information please contact Joyce at email@example.com or 781-899- 7239.