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Lifestyle & Human Interest

Thrift Shop Discovers 1870s Marriage Certificate Hidden Behind Painting, Reunites Family with Heirloom

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The reach of social media is vast, a fact that has been used for both good and evil, for everything from charitable endeavors to videos of cats.

There is power in this quality, a power that Karmen Smith recently tapped into to bring about a bit of kindness and restore a relic to the appropriate family.

Smith is the executive director of Hope Harbor Home Inc., which helps survivors of domestic violence (and their families), and one of the ways the organization does that is through its Hope Chest Thrift Store in Bolivia, North Carolina.

An interesting piece of artwork came into the shop, something the staff noticed in a recent donation while cleaning the new items. It was a framed painting of a girl with a dog — but along with the painting, inside the frame, was a marriage certificate from the 1870s.

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The names of the couple turned out to be William DeWorth and Katey Havey, married in New Jersey on April 11, 1872, and Smith knew that someone must have a connection to the lost piece of history.

“I have very concrete memories of my grandfather telling me story after story about family [members],” Smith told Fox News. “I think it’s just so beautiful because it really gives you that realization that your parents, even though you’ve only known them the time that you’ve been alive, they had this whole life before you.”

So she cast her net on Facebook, hoping to catch a relative’s eye.

“Alright Facebook world, I need a miracle,” her post began. “We here at Hope Harbor Home and Hope Chest Thrift Store(s) need you to do your magic. Like, SHARE, and comment on this post and lets see if we can make this happen!!

“Yesterday when at the Hope Chest Store in Bolivia we began to look at an old picture that had been donated. The image was a little girl putting flowers in a black dog’s collar. The words on the top read, ‘Christmas Number Illustrated London News 1889’. That’s not the coolest part though. Upon looking at the back it was discovered that beneath the paper was a hidden file folder. This file, contained the Marriage Certificate of a New Jersey couple.

“The date of the vows, was April 11th, 1875! This is a true treasure and was obviously, at one point in time, protected. As a society we have lost the value of story telling so its safe to assume that the story of the stowaway marriage certificate got lost in the generations that followed it,” the post continued.

“But….HOW COOL would it be if we could find the family of this couple?!?! Let’s see what we can do! Please SHARE SHARE SHARE!!”

Sleuths of all ability levels began searching for clues, trying to connect the certificate to current-day descendants. It was genealogist Connie Knox who made the connection and traced the lineage to 65-year-old Irene Cornish after hearing about the case on the news.

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“Being a genealogist, my ears just popped up,” she told The Washington Post. “I realized there’s enough information to research it. To me, that is kid-in-a-candy-shop kind of stuff. I couldn’t resist.”

On Aug. 12, Irene Brogan Cornish, DeWorth and Havey’s great-granddaughter, commented on Smith’s post.

“For those following the story, these are my great grandparents, William T. DeWorth and Katey Havey,” she wrote.

Though the family ties were identified, many mysteries remain. No one seems to know how the certificate made its way to North Carolina, as none of the family lives there.

“This particular great-grandmother has always been of interest to me, I think because she was to my mother too,” Cornish said, according to Fox News.

“I would love to know where in Ireland she’s from. I’ve never been able to trace that back.”

Cornish made the trek from her home in New York to pick up the artifact, a piece she now treasures.

“We read about history, but our ancestors are our own history,” she said. “And that’s why I’m fascinated by it.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking