Four months ago, Thomas Braswell spent $25 on an abandoned storage unit up for auction in Brandon.
A TV and dresser had caught his eye, but the real find was boxes full of family photos, letters, birth and death certificates from Massachusetts, dating to the early 1800s. There's a Bible from 1850 with locks of hair and flowers pressed between the pages. And there's information about a family lineage dating to the 1500s.
Braswell and his wife Felicia tried to track down an owner but had no luck. So they turned over the historical documents to Debbie Meyers, a friend from East Tampa Christian Church, who decided to find the family and return it to them
"I'm not looking for anything here," said Meyers of Tampa. "I just want the person who this belongs to to have it back."
The documents chronicle the Thayer, Snow, Rice families from Athol and Orange, Mass., and Meyers believes they were collected by a woman named Ruth Thayer, who married into the Snow and Rice families and died in the area after moving to New Port Richey.
"I hated history in school, but I am so amazed that someone went through all this trouble," said Meyers, 52. "That was her life's work. It is amazing to me that she put this much effort into this stuff."
The storage company wouldn't say who rented the unit, so Meyers sent five letters to family addresses in western Massachusetts, but they all came back.
If she's unable to locate a family member, Meyers wants to donate the documents to a historical society in western Massachusetts.
But her main goal is to get it to the family. It is where it belongs, she said.
"This is her and her family's life," Meyers said. "I just want to find out who this belongs to and get it back to them."