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Thrift store finds 149-year-old marriage certificate in painting, returns it to family

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Posted at 12:09 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 14:26:10-04

BOLIVIA, N.C. — A woman was brought to tears when a North Carolina thrift shop handed her a long-lost family heirloom.

Irene Cornish’s reaction was caught on camera as the Hope Chest thrift store in Bolivia gave her her great-grandparents’ marriage certificate.

"Oh, wow. I'm sorry. I still, I still can't believe it," said Cornish. "I'm going to have it for my family. I'm sorry, I'm so overwhelmed."

WECT reports that the certificate was found tucked inside a painting that was donated to the thrift store, which helps fund a local domestic violence program and shelter called Hope Harbor Home.

"So, I was going to take the frame apart and clean the back of it, clean the front of it with the glass. So, when I took it off, that's when I discovered that that was there,” said Pam Phelps, Assistant Manager of the shop.

The certificate said William Deworth and Katey Havey married in 1872 in New Jersey.

Phelps told her manager, Karmen Smith, about what she found, and the Hope Harbor Home executive director began searching for answers on 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.

Soon, others volunteered to help find the rightful owners of the certificate, including genealogist Connie Knox, who easily deciphered the document.

"That's enough to begin a search. You need a name, a place, and a date," said Knox.

Knox found Cornish on Ancestry.com and sent her the Facebook post about the certificate.

Just weeks later, Cornish made the trip down from New York to North Carolina to see the certificate in person and meet the team that helped connect her to her family history.

"I'm just incredibly grateful and humble. That's why I had to come here in person," Cornish said.

Cornish told WECT she wants to uncover more of her family history and plans to visit South Carolina to find where her parents were married.