Mystery: The Suitcase in the Cemetery

This is the true and amazing story of an old, non-descript suitcase,  forgotten for many years in a dusty storage area of a cemetery. It was almost discarded. Inside was a treasure trove of family pictures, genealogy and precious memories . Who did it belong to? How was it forgotten in a cemetery of all places? How old is it? Could someone figure out who’s it was? Would a family member be thrilled to have it once again?

There was a high school diploma, letters, papers,  priceless photographs, and clues of a life well lived. There was even a handmade needlepoint!

A concerned person rescued the suitcase and brought it to the Phoenix Family History Center to see if the skilled people there could identify its owner. Maybe, just maybe, there might be a relative out there who would love to have it. After all, family memories are so very important and worth keeping.

The sleuth’s at work

The dedicated group from the library eagerly went to work. Some studied the pictures for clues. Others looked at documents to compare to census records and genealogy trees. There was no lack of excitement to find the owner’s family. The excitement led to wonderful results. The pictures yielded important clues as to who might have owned it.

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Karl Steinman, our Chief Detective




The sleuths crafted the clues and pictures into a family tree. The owner  of the suitcase was indeed identified as a wonderful lady, Elizabeth Mason Lewis from Pennsylvania. Sadly she had died in 2012 but her pictures and memories lived on.


The next thought by the group was could we somehow locate a living relative for Elizabeth “Betty” Mason Lewis?

 But wait there’s more!

A letter was written and sent to her surviving son explaining what was found. He quickly responded and was delighted to hear of that wonderful collection of family history in a old suitcase! A magical reunion between the son and the memories in the suitcase took place soon afterward!

Gene Carruth, FOX10 Phoenix, and the suitcase


The great reunion story was covered live by television station FOX10 Phoenix.

Here is a link to the broadcast.

At the reunion, Mr. Lewis, her son was so pleased to look through the suitcase of wonderful family memories assisted by Gene Carruth (on the left).


Gene Carruth and Mr. Harry Lewis


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Phoenix Family History Center

For more information on this amazing story or about the important genealogy work of the Phoenix Family History Center, contact Gene Carruth at 602-370-0564. The Phoenix Family History Center is open to all who would like to learn about their own family history. Consultants are eager to help you with your genealogy. There is never a charge. And the center has special professional photo scanning equipment available for digitizing your pictures, again without charge. It is located at 3102 N 18th Avenue, Phoenix Az 85015. Their hours are Wednesday and Thursday  10AM until 9 PM,  Saturday 12 noon – 5PM.   Phone  602-264-2825

What can we take away from this special story?

Genealogy is more than just names, birth and death dates. The stories and photographs of our families help us to remember and cherish the lives well lived. This true story should remind us of how we too might preserve the photographs of our family and ensure that they are passed on to the next generation. Not only can they be physically saved, but digital images can be added to family trees on websites like or where they will be discovered by many others.

A quick disclosure: You may wonder why I posted this great story on my Chicago and Cook County Cemetery website? Well, I am happily retired in Phoenix. Still working with Chicago cemetery stories but am also a volunteer consultant at the Phoenix Family History Center. I played a small part in this suitcase mystery.  I am the old guy next to the cookies in the picture above.

5 thoughts on “Mystery: The Suitcase in the Cemetery”

  1. This was wonderful to here that her son was found. I applaud the person who found this case and took it to the right place


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