ACCIDENTAL TREASURE: Stranger returns century-old heirloom to Greenfield family


GREENFIELD — A 134-year-old marriage certificate was returned to a Greenfield family this month after a stranger found it while digging through a bin at Goodwill.

Carlos Egan stops by the Goodwill outlet at 42nd Street and Franklin Road on the east side of Indianapolis about once a week, typically searching for secondhand backpacking gear.

Yet when the Cumberland man spied the century-old certificate in an ornate frame on a recent visit, he knew he had to take it home and try tracking down the couple’s family.

An online search led him to an Arizona man named James Jeffries, whose cousins — Brian and Todd Jeffries — live in Greenfield.

The men are the great-great grandsons of Level and Sarah Waits Jeffries, the couple listed on the marriage certificate, who were married by the minister of the Greenfield Presbyterian church on Feb. 3, 1887.

They were eventually laid to rest in Park Cemetery in Greenfield.

Sarah died just nine years after marrying Level, leaving him a widower with three young sons.

Level went on to remarry and died in 1934, but his marriage to Sarah is captured in time, with the proof hanging on a wall in their great-great grandson’s home just north of Greenfield.

The colorful certificate is still in good condition, preserved under glass in a weathered, ornate wooden frame.

“I remember seeing it as a kid hanging on the wall in my great-grandparents’ house,” said Brian, 59, who proudly displays the document in his home office.

An ancestry and genealogy buff who was born and raised in Hancock County, he can only assume the framed heirloom got lost somewhere along the way.

Egan said it’s a miracle that the certificate, encased in glass, survived the trip to the bottom of a Goodwill bin.

“Those things are just dumped into big blue bins, with all sorts of things mixed together and sold by the pound,” Egan said.

He probably paid about $2 for the certificate but insisted on passing it along to the Jeffries family for free.

“I was blown away that someone would go out of their way like that to return it,” Brian said.

It’s not the first time Egan has returned a family heirloom to is rightful owner. He once tracked down a woman whose late sister had a stack of documents end up in a Goodwill bin, including a condolence letter from the Army when her husband died.

He also found a New Testament booklet that was presented to a U.S. soldier in 1942, with a dedication from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“When I find stuff like that I think, ‘this might mean something to someone,’ so it’s worth looking to see if I can find who it belongs to,” said Egan, who often Googles names he comes across for clues.

He had a friend track down the Jeffries family through the research site, which led him to James Jeffries, who lives near Tucson.

James reached out to his cousin, Brian, who eagerly agreed to meet up with Egan three weeks ago at Tractor Supply in Greenfield to pick up the heirloom.

“We talked for maybe 45 minutes. Carlos is a really interesting guy, and I thanked him profusely,” Brian said.

His sister-in-law, Robin Jeffries, was also thrilled to see the priceless memento returned.

“Family history is a really big deal to Todd and Brian, so

I think it’s super awesome that this person made the effort to return this to the family. To think something like that could be lost forever, and to have somebody who is kind enough to make the effort to return it, is really exciting,” said Robin, who is married to Todd.

The Jeffries family has lived in Hancock County since the 1860s, Brian said.

“We found out a few years ago that my Jeffries ancestors first came to Indiana in 1831, and got a patent from the government for 80 acres in Rush County,” he said.

Level and his family owned the Jeffries and Son Livery, which sat on the southeast corner of State and North streets in downtown Greenfield, where a parking lot now sits. The family lived right across the street, on the site that is now home to Kirkwood Family Dentistry.

Some pictures of the livery and the Jeffries family are on the City of Greenfield’s website, in a section highlighting the city’s history of blacksmiths, livery stables and wagon makers that made their mark in the late 19th century.

“Our family’s ancestry has always been important to us,” said Todd, “which makes having the marriage certificate returned just that much more special.”