The Portrait of Wanda Smithey

It was during the lull preceding WWII when my uncle went to Roaring River, North Carolina to stay with his uncle (my grandfather’s brother). There he met a beautiful young woman named Wanda Smithey. (I may be misspelling her name as I have only heard it spoken and not seen it written down anywhere.)

They were fond of each other and she gave him a portrait of herself, one professionally taken in the Paul Harvel Studio in downtown North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. I’m sure it wasn’t inexpensive for that day and age.

Wanda Smithey

Then Pearl Harbor was bombed and my uncle joined the military, as did most of the young men in that community.

Uncle Dwight Military 2

He was sent to England and France and I even have a picture of him with his unit at the Arc de Triomphe. He drew an arrow to himself – the ‘me’ in the picture.

Uncle Dwight in Paris 2

I don’t know what happened to Wanda Smithey after that. My uncle went to work for a company in Louisville, Kentucky. There he met and married and made a good life for himself until his untimely death several years ago.

Since my mother’s death, my sister and I have been going through her belongings and sometimes that has turned into the belongings of our grandparents as well. In one of those boxes was this portrait of Wanda Smithey. We knew her name because our mother found the picture after her mother died and often commented about her desire to return it to Wanda or to her children and/or grandchildren. My aunt, the last survivor of the three siblings, also verified the name.

I assume Wanda Smithey got married and had a wonderful life. She was certainly a lovely lady with a warm smile and shining eyes. She would be close to ninety now, give or take a few years. I would love to return this to her or to her family. If she is still living, sitting with her and talking over that time in history would be terrific.

I have searched the local paper archives, but I don’t have a married name for her, so nothing shows up in her name. If you know her, suspect you know her, or someone in her family, I’d love your help.

Have you ever found someone by a picture? If so, what did you do and what was the outcome?

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   

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  1. What a wonderful mystery! Wouldn’t it be great if you could find her? It’s harder than you think. I know that not everybody puts a woman’s maiden name in the obituary (me for example — I didn’t put MY MOTHER’s maiden name in hers. I felt terrible for just this reason — what if someone was looking for her?)

    1. I checked obituaries, but she might not be deceased. Fingers crossed and hoping she isn’t. I’d love to talk with her and give this back to her. I bet it would conjure up some wonderful memories.

  2. Renee – Terrific post. In one of my blogs from way back when, I mentioned the name of one of my graduate school professors who became my mentor for many years. I had listed his name in the blog’s tags. I was surprised when I received a message a few days after I posted the blog from my professor’s son. We’ve maintained our connection via telephone since that time.
    I also have an incident involving pictures which were in the top of a closet in my father’s home. My mother passed about 20 years prior and I was investigating the murder of her sister in 1924. I happened to take 3 months off from my job as my father was very ill. Many of the pictures had no identifying marks on them but with the help of hundreds of people, I now have the name(s) on every picture with the exception of one.

    1. Wow. That’s an interesting story. Have you written about the murder? I hope I’ll be as lucky as you. I tried to find my pen pal from grade school (she was from Scotland) but had no luck. The problem with finding women is we never know what last name they are going by now. It’s a problem.

  3. Lovely pic of Wanda. I love how the lips are painted by hand. My father used to colourize black & white photographs back in the 1930’s. Very cool. I’ve tweeted the link, with hope it helps you locate the family of Wanda.

  4. What a stunning woman and your grandfather is extremely handsome. I love photos from this time period and the last one is a wonderful treasure. Sounds like you have the making for a really good story!

  5. How interesting it tells us this is what life really is. How events pan out no one can tell its best to be in the flow. Your uncle looks handsome in his uniform.
    Thanks Renee for the share.

  6. I hope you Fonda Wanda or her family through your post. Beautiful nostalgic story that make us appreciate the gift of the past, our families and the people we meet along the way. Have a great weekend.

  7. She certainly was a very pretty young lady. I do hope you find out more about her and that the image can be returned to her family. Lovely story xx

    1. That’s the main objective – get the portrait back to people who had the pleasure of knowing her. And hopefully, I can get to know her a little bit as well. Thanks Charlie.

  8. She looks like Margaret Anderson, the mom on the show, Father Knows Best. Beautiful smile. I do hope you find her or her family so you can give them the photo. But maybe they’ll come across this one day while Googling her name on the internet.

  9. Renee, what a lovely picture portrait of your family’s history! Wanda looks like quite the woman — really jumps off the page. My thanks to your uncle for his service to our country. And now you have a mystery to solve. My first hope is that you might find some help from my friend, Kevin. He writes a genealogy blog here on WordPress: and might be able to offer you some suggestions if you leave a comment. My second hope — is that if you can’t find Wanda, that you might write a story about what you imagine happened to her and share it on your blog! I’d love to read it. A mystery for sure. Good luck!

  10. Sounds like the beginning of a great historical novel…. thanks for sharing and for the follow. Keep up the wondefrul-ness.

  11. What a lovely young woman, and you’re right, such a portrait was not inexpensive. Actually, I like both of their pictures, and you know there’s a story in this just waiting to be written. Think of the children they might have had–albeit without his real children because of it–and what their lives might have been.
    In answer to your question, I asked a friend who “tracked” her great-grandmother’s groom who had left her at the alter in 1907 (a story there, too) by only a couple of pictures of him. She suggests you first try entering Wanda Smithey’s name in ancestor-search sites (but also try spelling it Smithee and Smithy, etc.) Also, though, there is a “do you know where this person or her family is now?” kind of site, and you scan the picture, it’s posted, and so on. However, my friend says those are members-only sites and pricey.
    Good luck with your search.

  12. Hi Renee…I stumbled on here due to the Magic of the Internet. Harvel is my mom’s family…I asked her about your blog post and this is her reply:
    “That portrait was, indeed, taken by my father. It was hand-colored by his sister, my Aunt Charlotte Harvel. Daddy had a photography studio in North Wilkesboro for some years before the war and several years after he returned from the war before he took over Lineberry Foundry from his father, Paul W. Harvel Sr. I do not know Wanda Smithey, but Wilkes County has numerous Smitheys (some are Smithy). ”

    So, sorry, no Wanda connection but a little bit more background to your story!

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