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A man found a stack of portraits in a closed down studio. Now he's searching for the rightful owners

Brian Bonino and his family are reconnecting families with their lost photos. By David Blank, CNN

(CNN) -- Architect Brian Bononi entered a defunct photo studio in Northland, Missouri, ready to take some measurements for the space's next business. But then he came across something immeasurable: A stack of portraits.

There were photos of kids smiling in their parents' arms; couples hand-in-hand; and generations beaming for posterity. All these priceless images had never made it to their clients.

"If these memories were my memories, I would want someone to do what they could to help me," Bononi told CNN.

That's when he set out on a mission to reunite the photos with the people who posed for them.

A lost trove of memories

When Charlotte-based company Portrait Innovations closed more than 100 shops, it made it hard for customers to claim their portraits. Contacting the company proved especially difficult after their website dropped offline.

Though the 39-year-old Bononi, who is also a father, is a busy man, he said he couldn't just throw the pictures away.

"I called my wife and we agreed our family would take on this project because it's an opportunity to extend love and hope within our community."

The search for owners

"Irreplaceable memories are what made the greatest impact in our decision to take on this project," Bononi said. "There are no second chances in life to capture memories."

But figuring out who the pictures belonged to proved challenging.

Some photos had direct phone numbers attached. Others had no information beyond the family's name. Brian, his wife Dawn and their children alphabetized the pictures and took to Facebook in search of owners who thought they would never see their photographs.

The Bononis' efforts soon caught the attention of the local news. The segment shared Brian's contact information, and reunited some -- like the Ruffcorn family -- with their recovered sentimental canvas prints.

"We are so grateful for Brian for caring enough to get the pictures out of the closed store and taking the time and energy to find the affected families," Lisa Ruffcorn told CNN.

The mission continues

The Bononi family is still trying to match photos with their rightful owners. It's a labor of love that gets reinforced by the joy he sees when people receive the pictures they thought were lost forever.

"The time it has taken to place these photos in the families' homes is worth every moment," he said.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct Dawn Bononi's first name and the spelling of the Ruffcorn family's last name.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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