‘I still can’t believe it’: Woman moved to tears after thrift shop finds long-lost piece of family history

‘I still can’t believe it’: Woman moved to tears after thrift shop finds long-lost piece of family history
Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 2:51 PM EDT
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BOLIVIA, N.C. (WECT) - A Brunswick County thrift store find holds quite the surprise: tucked right behind a donated painting was a nearly 150-year-old marriage certificate for a couple from New Jersey.

“I still can’t believe it,” said Irene Cornish, the great-granddaughter of the couple who obtained the marriage certificate in 1872. On Monday, she held it for the first time. “I’m going to have it for my family — I’m so overwhelmed.”

Late last month, someone dropped off a painting at the Hope Chest Thrift Store, one of several thrift stores that help fund Brunswick County’s domestic violence program and shelter Hope Harbor Home. Just like all donations, it went through a cleaning process to get it ready to hit the shelves.

“I was going to take the frame apart and clean the back of it, clean the front of it with the glass,” said assistant manager Pam Phelps. “When I took it off, that’s when I discovered that that was there.”

A piece of paper, practically falling apart at the touch, hidden inside the frame. It was the marriage certificate of William Deworth and Katey Havey in Bordentown, New Jersey. Phelps told her manager and the executive director of Hope Harbor Home, Karmen Smith, who posted it to Facebook.

“I had a complete nerd moment and started spiraling on why it was hidden and who it could have belonged to and obviously if there was any family living that this certificate could be returned to,” said Smith.

Looking at the certificate, genealogist Connie Knox could make out the writing easily: William Deworth and Katey Havey, married in 1872 in New Jersey. Knox tracked down Cornish on Ancestry.com and sent her a link to the post.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Cornish. “It feels good to have this back. I’m still really in a state of shock about how it happened.”

When asked how a marriage certificate ends up inside a painting, Cornish said all she can think is that her great-grandmother or grandmother put it there for safekeeping and after they died, an unsuspecting relative sold it or donated it to another thrift store.

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