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Column: Photo of long-lost relative sparks journey through family tree

A random Facebook message led to reporter Teri Cadeau reuniting a relative with a photo of her brother who died in Vietnam.

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The photo of Bobby Cadeau taken by Durant Barclay in 1952 which was recently shared with reporter Teri Cadeau and sent Bobby’s sister Nancy Cadeau Wagner in Florida. Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — It was a pretty quiet Sunday morning. I've been the reporter on duty on Sundays for the Duluth News Tribune for a little over a year now. Some are crammed with events with no time to spare. Others creep along like a sloth crossing the road. It was a sloth Sunday when my phone buzzed.

Someone I wasn't friends with on Facebook was trying to message me. Huh. I hadn't been expecting a message from anyone. I took a look at their profile and noticed we had several reputable Duluth-based friends in common, so there was a good chance it wasn't a scam or spam.

"Hi Teri, we have a photo we bought at a sale about 20 years ago. Photographer was Durant Barclay, and name on the back matches your last name. 'Bobby Cadeau, Parkville, MN 1957.' Cleaning things out and found it, wondering if you know the person or would be interested in the photo?"

Bobby Cadeau? I didn't recognize the name. I have yet run into another Cadeau in the region who wasn't related to me in some way. But the name Bobby was completely unfamiliar.

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Teri Cadeau_2017
Teri Cadeau

Parkville rang a bell. It's an addition in Mountain Iron up on the Iron Range. We used to gather at the Nicholas Town Hall in Parkville every Sunday for church when I was a child. The location of the photo added some credibility to this being a relative of mine.

A Google search revealed a listing for Robert Kenneth Cadeau on the Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces. He was born in 1947 and died in battle on May 25, 1967, in the Quang Tri province while serving as a corporal in the Marine Corps. But his home was listed as Broward County, Florida, not Minnesota. I knew some of the Cadeau family had moved to Florida, but I didn't know when. Also my father and grandfather's names are both Kenneth. But, again, this could have been a coincidence.

I needed to dig deeper. Sadly, the one person I wanted to talk to about this, Clarence "Butch" Cadeau, my dad's cousin, died in 2018. He was our family historian. He had a keen interest in genealogy and had reached out to various possible relatives over the years before he passed. Thankfully he left behind an incredibly detailed obituary which listed a great number of his relatives including his brother Robert Cadeau who died May 25, 1967. A ha!

I reached back out to Brian Barber, the person offering the photo, and said I was interested. He offered to leave it for me on his front porch that afternoon. On my way to another assignment, I swung by and picked it up. I didn't ask more questions at the time, but later wondered why he'd bought the photo in the first place.

"We just thought they were cool photos, and they were all mounted and ready to hang like that," Barber said. "The photographer, Durant Barclay, was a longtime member of the Unitarian Church. It was a Unitarian Church rummage sale where we picked them up. While clearing things out last week, we decided, rather than toss it out or send it to Goodwill, to look up the name and see if anyone would want it."

They'd recognized my name from Duluth News Tribune stories and reached out.

When I first saw the photo, I thought "Oh yes, this person is definitely related to me." According to my mother, I was a bit of a grumpy child who didn't like to smile. Instead, I'd set my jaw and narrow my eyes into what she referred to as "The Cadeau Look." It's something she'd noticed my father and a few other relatives do from time to time.

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Robert definitely had "The Cadeau Look."

He looked a little younger than I'd expected. Robert would have been 10 in 1957. But flipping over the photo, I noticed it looked like someone had written over the 7 to turn it into a 2, when he'd have been 5, which seemed just about right.

I had the photo. But what should I do with it? I turned back to the Cadeau family's Facebook group and shared the story with them. Several relatives confirmed my findings and were excited to see Bobby again. Robert and Butch's sister Nancy Cadeau Wagner also confirmed the photo and said she'd seen it once before, but that the quality hadn't been very good in that version. She asked if she could have the photo so I popped it in the mail to her home in Florida.

The next week, I received this Facebook message from Nancy: "Again, thank you for the photo. Even though I had seen it before, I cried. It is beautiful."

A fitting end to a story that started with a random Facebook message. I learned more about my family thanks to the kindness of a stranger and was able to help reconnect a photo to its most appreciative owner.

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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