OHIO Archives

Ohio University Libraries Archives & Special Collections

The Wong Family Photograph Collection

By Mattes Brown ’26, Photography, Fall 2023 Intern

The following post has been adapted from a series of Instagram posts available on the Alden Library Instagram account.

The Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections fall internships are wrapping up! As winter break grows closer, interns are finalizing their work at the archives. Mattes Brown one of six fall interns this semester has been vigorously sorting through the last few items of the Wong Family Photograph Collection.

My project this semester was to arrange and describe a collection of over 1,000 unidentified family snapshots. These photos range from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Through hours of looking and sorting I was able to identify some of the individuals, their relationships to each other, and even found the family house on Google Maps! The Wong’s lived in Alameda County, California. We don’t know much about how the collection came to be at Ohio University, but there is a dealer’s description leading us to believe this collection was at one point bought by a collector or the University.


The Wong family home (Alameda County, California) which is still standing today

The story I have uncovered in these photos is quite complex. They are primarily family photographs of the Wong Family, a large Chinese American family living in Alameda, California from the 1940’s- 1960’s. They had a passion for photography, each family member meticulously documented. One of my favorite discoveries was a group of portraits of May Wong. I’ve included some of them in this post, she is by far the most photographed family member. Her portraits remind me of the modern-day fit check, she’s incredibly fashionable.

Photos of a stylish May Wong

As I’m getting to the end of this process, I’m reminded of the excitement I had at the beginning of all this. Working with these photographs, these stories, has been a true journey. Right now, at the end, I’ve already processed all the photographs and arranged them, I’m now working on drafting a finding aid; This gives viewers a table of contents to better understand what is in the collection.

Overall working in the archives is fascinating. One day I’m organizing vintage outfit photographs; the next day all the family’s electrical bills; another I’m trying to establish a family tree. At one point I spent a good deal of time just sorting through baby pictures. It’s been rewarding, truly.