The 149-year-old certificate, which belonged to William Deworth and Katharine “Katey” Havey, was found inside a picture frame that held a painting of a young girl and dog, according to Karmen Smith – the executive director of Hope Harbor Home Inc.
The painting had been donated to one of the organization’s Hope Chest Thrift Store locations in Bolivia, North Carolina, which aims to serve survivors of domestic violence and their families.
Staff at the Bolivia location alerted Smith about the certificate after they discovered it in the frame during their sanitization process in late July, Smith told Fox News.
She went on to snap photos of the painting and certificate and shared the images on Facebook in hopes of finding a surviving relative.
Family and storytelling have “always been incredibly important” to Smith, and those feelings are what led her to seek out the certificate’s rightful owner.
“I have very concrete memories of my grandfather telling me story after story about family [members],” Smith said. “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.”
Despite the font being worn down, locals who came across Smith’s Facebook post pitched in to help her search. Many social media users combed through public records and family search websites, Smith said.
The volunteer who successfully found Deworth and Havey’s living descendant was genealogist Connie Knox, who used Ancestry.com to conduct her own independent search, according to Smith.
Knox and several others messaged Irene Cornish, 65, the great-granddaughter of Deworth and Havey. She came forward on Aug. 9, and confirmed that the marriage certificate did belong to her family under the Facebook post Smith shared.
Irene Cornish, 65, told Fox News her family has roots in New Jersey, but she’s not sure how her great-grandparents’ marriage certificate ended up in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Irene Cornish)
Cornish ventured down to North Carolina from her home in upstate New York on Monday to retrieve the certificate and painting.
“I’m still kind of in shock by it all,” Cornish told FOX News.
She noted that she’s not only shocked “that a document that old still existed,” but she’s impressed that it survived in the picture frame.
Seeing the number of people who banded together to help her recover the lost piece of family history is another factor that has warmed her heart, she said.
Deworth and Havey were married in April 1872 in the state of New Jersey. Cornish said she’s unsure of how the certificate ended up in North Carolina since she doesn’t have family there, but she’s hoping someone else will come forward if they recognize the painting it came with.
Katharine “Katey” Havey DeWorth (far right) moved to the U.S. from Ireland, according to the few accounts Irene Cornish’s mother passed down. Here in this photo, she is pictured with her daughter Irene (far left), Cornish’s grandmother. (Photo courtesy of Irene Cornish)
William Tindall DeWorth (right) married Katharine Havey in 1872. Here in this photo, he’s pictured with their son Enoch. (Photo courtesy of Irene Cornish)
“This particular great-grandmother has always been of interest to me, I think because she was to my mother too,” Cornish said while noting Havey came to the U.S. from Ireland.
“I would love to know where in Ireland she’s from,” Cornish went on. “I’ve never been able to trace that back.”
Cornish plans to continue researching her great-grandparents. She’s also consulting professional archivists to find out how to preserve and make copies of the document.
“We read about history, but our ancestors are our own history,” Cornish said. “And that’s why I’m fascinated by it.”