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Madness Monday – Gambling in Vegas… on Diplomas?
August 29th, 2011 by Jessica

In December 2010 I was wandering rather aimlessly through a random antique shop in Las Vegas, Nevada while on a trip with my mother-in-law, Karen. At the end of a narrow hallway stood an old hutch filled with family photographs and memorabilia. I have a fascination with the story behind old photographs and immediately started thumbing through what was there.

Diploma for James G. Coury with $5.00 price tag

Diploma for James G. Coury with $5.00 price tag

I quickly noticed an old diploma for a gentleman named James G. Coury from Kingston Borough Schools in Kingston, Pennsylvania.  I don’t really have any family from Pennsylvania, nor had I ever heard of Kingston before.  Something struck me about the grandeur of this particular piece.  It was in its original paper frame and was in perfect condition, as if it had been stored away for a long time.  The date on the document was June 11, 1935.

I picked it up and immediately noticed that directly behind it were three more diplomas from the same school.  In fact, I was a bit surprised to realize they appeared to be from the same family: Peter Anthony Coury (June 1943), Janette Mary Coury (June 1948) and Cecilia Ann Coury (June 1951).  My gut sank like a bottomless pit, and something told me there was a problem with this situation.  I couldn’t believe that these diplomas were all sitting here, together, from the same family and the same school, inconspicuously priced at $5.00 each.

At the surprise of my mother-in-law, I decided to purchase the diplomas.  I felt like I was up to the challenge of finding an ancestor from this family.  There had to be more to this story.  I took the four diplomas up to the front counter.  The shop owner just looked at me like I had three heads.  She asked me why I wanted to buy them.  I told her I was a volunteer genealogist and I wanted to try to return them to the family.  She said, in a very direct manner, that I was wasting my time and my $20.00.  She told me that nobody wants them, that’s why they were thrown out.  She was incredibly rude to me and left me feeling very angry.  She was running a business, why did she care what I did with the stuff I bought from her?  I recall standing in the parking lot and taking a good look at the front of the building, thinking to myself that I never wanted to return to her shop.

On December 11, 2010 I returned home to Phoenix and hopped on Ancestry.com.  It took me all of about 30 seconds to locate a researcher online who had these four siblings in a family tree.  I quickly sent a message and asked how this person was related to James, Peter, Janette and Cecilia.  I said that I had found something they might be interested in for their family archives.  I then waited patiently.

A few weeks went by and I heard nothing in response.  On January 6, 2011 I looked around again and found a second family with a similar tree posted.  I sent off the following message:

I see that you have the family of Anthony and Minnie Coury in your tree – specifically the children James G. Coury, Peter Anthony Coury, Janette Mary Coury, and Cecilia Ann Coury. I am looking for someone with close ties to these family members. Can you tell me how you are related to them?

Within a few hours, I received a response from her and knew I had found a good match:

My husband is the son of Viola Teresa Coury. She is the sister of James, Peter, Janette and Cecilia. They also had another brother Albert. Let me know if you have any other questions. I would love to help out. And if you could help me out too that would be great. I have had a really difficult time finding information on the Coury side of the family.

I wrote her back and explained the situation and how I came across the diplomas.  This was her response to me:

That is so great that you found those! We knew my husband’s aunt had died in 2009. They actually had a burial ceremony for her in PA. Her 2 sisters that are the only living siblings left, are my husband’s mother, Viola and his aunt, Janette. They both live together in PA. They are older, in their 80s, and couldn’t go to Las Vegas to oversee anything that was going on in regards to her house and belongings. They sent my husband’s 2 cousins out there to see what they could do. So… I guess what they did was get rid of everything instead of really taking the time to go through her stuff. That’s sad.

We would love to have the diplomas if you are willing to send them to us. I know her sisters would be delighted to see them. I am so happy you cared enough to not see them rot away like they were clearly going to do.

If you do return to the antique shop, pictures would be great if you can find any. Like I said, we have had a really hard time finding any information on the Coury side of his family. I do know that his Aunt Cecilia was a bit of a pack rat, so there is probably a lot of stuff there that is just not worth saving. I just wish they would have gone through some things instead of just throwing them out with the trash.

Thank you so much for doing this. We really appreciate it.

On January 14, 2011 I sent the diplomas to the family.  They received them quickly and attempted to contact the antique shop.  I had provided them with the address and phone number so they could try to retrieve additional items if any still remained for sale.  This was her response:

I got the diplomas in the mail today! Thank you so much. I always wanted to quickly tell you that my husband spoke to the woman who owns the antique shop via email. She told him that she has no idea what we are talking about. She doesn’t think it was her shop that had Cecilia’s items. She basically blew us off completely and told us that she couldn’t help us any further.  So… if you are in the area and go in the shop if you could just check for pictures for us that would be great. Oh, she also said that once she goes through the boxes, anything she finds that she thinks is important she contacts the family members and returns the items to them. I guess she didn’t think the diplomas were important enough.

Angry.  That’s all I could feel towards this shop owner.  She was rude to me, she was rude to the Coury family and she was just all around a mean person.  She doesn’t care about the history of the items in her shop.  It’s all just a way to make money.  I didn’t much care to ever go back to her shop again.  I didn’t want to give her any more money.  I was torn between frustration towards her and the desire to help the Coury family.

The next time we went to Las Vegas was July 23, 2011.  I had little hope that I would be able to identify any additional belongings for the Coury family, knowing absolutely nothing about these people.  I had internet access and a sense of responsibility, so I went for it.

Coury Family, courtesy of the Millham Family

Coury Family, courtesy of the Millham Family

We walked back into the awful antique shop and past the horrible owner, straight to the end of the hall where I had found the diplomas seven months prior.  Using my Motorola Xoom tablet and my access to the Coury family tree on Ancestry.com, I began sifting through photos on the table to see if anything looked like it could have been a match. I knew the family had three boys and three girls, and they were of Italian heritage.

I noticed that most of the items had a number written in pencil on them, and remembered in a flash that the diplomas also had a number.  Thankfully I had scanned them in and posted them on Flickr before I mailed them out.  I used the Xoom to navigate to the images on Flickr and was able to read the number “1020” in the corner.  I turned back to the table and noticed the same number on a bunch of the items.  I guessed that was a lot number, and my guess turned out to be correct.

My next message to the Coury family was:

I’m back in Las Vegas and just went to that antique shop again. I found a whole bunch of photos that I believe might be from your family. I can’t be sure of course, but I found one military pamphlet with the Coury name and the lot number 1020 matched on all the items. The family had two parents and six children, three boys and three girls. I believe these are from your family.

The shop owner was as rude as ever. I tried to bargain with her, and then I tried to plead with her, I tried to bundle everything and buy it in a lot but she was just cruel about it. I couldn’t afford everything so I picked out what I felt was most important if in fact it is your family. Family portraits, military, wedding, stuff like that. I left a few of the candid pictures of just one or two kids. The total for 9 items was $70. There were about 10 more items from the lot but I wasn’t sure if it was the same family.

I took a gamble on these but what the heck, I am in Vegas right? I sure hope this is your family.

I immediately sent the package to the family straight from Las Vegas.  I didn’t even get a chance to scan them in.  (The photo shown here was scanned in and sent to me by the family for the purposes of sharing this post.)  Two days later, I received this response from the Coury family:

I got the package today! Words cannot express how unbelievably wonderful you are! A few of the pictures have yet to be explained but we are working on them as we speak. We think they are all of our family. Absolutely fabulous! The family is thrilled. I have scanned them and sent them to everyone to remind them to always look in boxes before throwing them in the trash! You are truly fantastic! Thanks again!

It just goes to show you that sometimes following your gut instinct can lead to really wonderful things.

Thanks for listening to my story.  I hope it inspires you to look for ways to volunteer as a genealogist.  You never know how you could help a family reunite with lost treasures.

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© 2013 Jessica M. Green