The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A diver found a message in a bottle dated 1926. Then the hunt began for the family of the man who wrote it.

Jennifer Dowker with the note in a bottle that she found in the Cheboygan River on June 18. (Rob Hemmer)

An earlier version of this article misspelled Lake Huron. This version has been corrected.

Jennifer Dowker was scuba diving in Michigan this month to clean her glass-bottom tour boat when something caught her eye: a little green glass bottle.

Dowker, 45, swam about 10 feet farther into the Cheboygan River to scoop it up and was excited to find there was a note rolled up inside.

“I thought, ‘A message in a bottle? Cool!’ ” said Dowker, who for the past three years has taken visitors on cruises and shipwreck tours as owner of Nautical North Family Adventures in the small city of Cheboygan.

When she surfaced, Dowker said, she held up the bottle and called out to one of her part-time employees, Rob Hemmer, who also works at a local history museum in Cheboygan County.

“I hollered, ‘Grab my phone and snap a picture — I just found a message in a bottle!’ ” recalled Dowker.

“Rob picked the broken cork out of the bottle with his jackknife and dumped out the water, then we carefully got the note out,” she said about the relic she found June 18. “It was wet, and we were surprised to find that we could still read it.”

They were also astonished to learn that the note was nearly a century old. The message was written on unlined white paper and was dated November 1926 — almost 95 years ago.

“Will the person who finds this bottle return this paper to George Morrow Cheboygan, Michigan and tell where it was found?” it read.

Dowker said she knew right away what she was going to do.

While Hemmer took the 95-year-old note home and put it in his freezer to dry out, Dowker posted the photos he’d snapped on her company’s Facebook page in hope of finding somebody who might have known the man who wrote the message.

“So look what I found when I was washing windows and cruising along with the fish,” she wrote. “Any Morrows out there know a George Morrow that would’ve written this circa 1926?”

“COOLEST night diving EVER,” she added.

Dowker said she thought it would be fun if a few people liked her post and passed it along to help track down Morrow’s relatives.

Instead, she woke up the next morning and was stunned to discover that thousands of people liked the post, which has now been shared more than 114,000 times.

Even more remarkably, she said, about 50 of those people jumped in to help, offering leads about people they thought might be related to George Morrow.

Two women chatted in a bathroom. They soon realized they were each a match for the other’s husband, who needed a kidney.

One of the self-appointed online helpers was René Szatkowski of Grand Blanc, Mich., who wrote, “I FOUND THE DAUGHTER!!!! They do not have Facebook … she is ecstatic!”

Szatkowski said she found Morrow’s daughter, Michele Primeau, through her dad’s obituary online.

“I called her and started off the conversation with, ‘You don’t know me and this may be really strange, but there are people looking for you on the Internet,’ ” said Szatkowski, 48.

“I know that I would cherish something like that from my own family’s past,” she said, explaining why she got involved.

Primeau, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Farmington Hills, Mich., said she was delighted when Szatkowski told her the story about the bottle and connected her to Dowker.

“My dad was really sentimental, and I could see him doing something like that,” she said. “When we were kids and went camping at Lake Huron, I remember he did the same thing once. He put a note in a bottle and threw it into the lake.”

Primeau, 74, said her father was a World War II Army veteran who fought in the Battle of Normandy in 1944. He died in 1995 of causes related to dementia when he was 85, she said.

Morrow was from Cheboygan, she added, but he and her mother, AnnEss Morrow, eventually moved to Pontiac, Mich., where she and her brother were raised.

“My mom was an extreme extrovert, while my dad was quiet and laid-back,” said Primeau. “He didn’t like a lot of attention, so he’d probably want to go into hiding if he were here and knew the story about his note in the bottle had gone all over the world.”

She said she was especially happy when she saw the date her father had written at the top of the note.

“My dad was born in November, and I can just picture him going down to the river on his 18th birthday and tossing the bottle in,” said Primeau.

Her dad’s fun-loving antics continued throughout his life, she said.

“Every year, on the anniversary that he met my mother, he would call her on the phone and ask if she’d like to go on a date,” said Primeau.

“I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that a note he’d rolled up in a bottle would turn up after 95 years,” she added.

A gay couple faced vulgar harassment. A neighbor helped find the suspect with a handwriting sample.

Dowker, a mom of three teen boys, said she’d often wondered what it would be like to find an old note in a bottle.

And once she did, she said, she wanted to return it to the daughter of the rightful owner.

But Primeau said she started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Jenn could keep it in her office so everyone who came in could see it?” she said.

“It will be a way for my dad to live on. I really like the idea of sharing it,” said Primeau.

In exchange, Dowker had an offer.

“I told Michele that she now has a lifetime boat pass,” she said. “Anytime she’d like, I’ll take her out on the water. She’s thinking she’ll come out in September, and I’d love to take her on one of my shipwreck tours.”

“Wouldn’t it be cool if now we also found a treasure map?”

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