When Katie Posten walked outside Saturday morning to her car parked in her driveway, she saw something that looked like a note or receipt stuck to the windshield.
She grabbed it and saw it was a black and white photo of a woman in a striped sundress and headscarf holding a little boy in her lap. On the back, written in cursive, it said, “Gertie Swatzell & J.D. Swatzell 1942.” A few hours later, Posten would discover that the photo had made quite a journey.
Posten had been tracking the tornadoes that hit the middle of the U.S. Friday night, killing dozens of people. They came close to where she lives in New Albany, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. So she figured it must be debris from someone’s damaged home.
“Seeing the date, I realized that was likely from a home hit by a tornado. How else is it going to be there?” Posten said in a phone interview Sunday morning. “It’s not a receipt. It’s a well-kept photo.”
So, doing what any 21st century person would do, she posted an image of the photo on Facebook and Twitter and asked for help in finding its owners. She said she was hoping someone on social media would have a connection to the photo or share it with someone who had a connection.
Sure enough, that’s what happened.
“A lot of people shared it on Facebook. Someone came across it who is friends with a man with the same last name, and they tagged him,” said Posten, 30, who works for a tech company.
That man was Cole Swatzell, who commented that the photo belonged to family members in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, almost 130 miles (209 kilometers) away from New Albany, Indiana, as the crow flies, and 167 miles (269 kilometers) away by car. Swatzell on Sunday didn’t respond to a Facebook message seeking comment.
In Dawson Springs, Kentucky — a town of about 2,700 people 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Paducah — homes were leveled, trees were splintered and search and rescue teams continued to scour the community for any survivors. The death toll of 36 across five states from the tornadoes includes 22 people from Kentucky; six people in Illinois, where an Amazon facility was hit; four in Tennessee; two in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed; and two in Missouri.
Posten plans to return the photo to the Swatzell family sometime this week.
“It’s really remarkable, definitely one of those things, given all that has happened, that makes you consider how valuable things are — memories, family heirlooms, and those kinds of things,” Posten said. “It shows you the power of social media for good. It was encouraging that immediately there were tons of replies from people, looking up ancestry records, and saying ‘I know someone who knows someone and I’d like to help.’”