Nfld. & Labrador

90-year-old autograph book found at yard sale sparks journey to find original owner

Keith Maynard is a modern-day treasure hunter who has been buying and selling things found in yard sales for years.

Corner Brook collector tracks down the family to return piece of her history

Keith Maynard of Corner Brook found this autograph book in a yard sale just north of Edmonton. It sparked a journey to find its original owner. (Keith Maynard)

Keith Maynard could be considered a modern-day treasure hunter.

The collector may not have maps marked with X's or chests of gold, but he does have an eye for finding something special.

So when Maynard noticed a small autograph book sitting on a cluttered table at a yard sale just north of Edmonton, he got excited.

It was the kind of book popular with teenagers generations ago. Today, he knew it was so much more.

"The book is dated from 1929 to 1936 … it almost looks like an old photo album," said Maynard. 

"In it is all handwritten messages. It was a birthday gift to Hilda, the girl in the book."

"When I looked at it and opened it up … It was a look back in time."

Hilda Beckett, centre, was the owner of an autograph book 90 years ago, recently found at a yard sale. (Keith Maynard)

Maynard, who lives in Corner Brook but works near Fort McMurray, has enjoyed a hobby of buying and selling things found in yard sales for years.

However, this find was different. The collector instantly knew the rare book needed to be reunited with its original owner. He hatched a plan to find Hilda when he returned to Alberta for work.

Finding Hilda

After exhaustive searches on social media and with the local school board, it was a live interview with CBC Radio in Regina that finally cracked the case.

Shortly after the interview aired, Maynard received an e-mail from a man named George Beckett, Hilda's 82-year-old younger brother. Beckett was unaware the autograph book even existed.

"Him and his brother had been doing research of the family history for quite a while," said Maynard.

"There was something out there they actually didn't know existed … and something that was very personal to her."

One of the personal handwritten messages inside Hilda Beckett's book. (Keith Maynard)

"They are really excited about getting the book back. He's going to have it professionally copied so that he can give copies to the family," he told CBC News. 

Maynard then learned more about Hilda in emails from her brother. She was the oldest of four siblings and had three children of her own, all of whom are still living in Canada. She held a government job with the province of Manitoba and later worked for the Royal Bank. Hilda died in 2008.

'A part of the history of their family'

For Maynard, tracing the history of the autograph book became a mission.

"I think if I knew there was something out there this personal belonging to my family, I would want it back," he said.

"This is a part of the history of their family."

Maynard said he plans to meet Hilda's brother, George, "and hopefully the sister and the kids of Hilda," in the coming months.

"I want to hand the book off. I don't want to send it to them. It seems so impersonal. It's sad that it got lost. I thought that the book really needed to get back to the family. That's where it belongs."