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Finding a piece of family history is a priceless discovery

When a loved one passes away, sorting out a lifetime of belongings often yields family treasures, but sometimes we overlook the most precious items. That is what happened to the family of a former Coast Guard officer, but an odd coincidence forestalled what could have been an unfortunate loss.

The back story

Former Coast Guard Commander Albert Frost passed away on his 100th birthday in 2017. After graduating from the Coast Guard Academy in 1942, he had begun his active service aboard a troop ship that transported soldiers to Guadalcanal. Frost served for more than 30 years. On one memorable trip, he commanded the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter on a voyage up the Potomac River. It was a ceremonial occasion for a congressional delegation. Afterward, he received a key to the city of Washington.

What happened

When Albert Frost died, his son, John, and daughter-in-law, Elena, sorted through his possessions, keeping some items and donating the rest. One of the donated pieces was a suitcase thought to hold bed linens. John assumed that Elena had gone through it and vice versa, but neither had, and the suitcase went to Goodwill.

Lost and found

The key given to Commander Frost was among the contents of the suitcase and featured on a Goodwill website. Gary Thomas makes it his business to look at auction websites searching for possible Coast Guard memorabilia. Thomas is executive director of the Foundation for Coast Guard History. He brought the key to the attention of his colleagues, one of whom recognized the name of the key’s owner. Albert Frost was to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in two days’ time. Eventually, a team retrieved the key from Goodwill and presented it to John during the former commander’s burial service.

Protecting your treasures

Finding a sentimental treasure like a brass key with a history is a wonderful experience for the family of the deceased; it makes us realize how important it is to pass heirlooms and purely sentimental items down to heirs. This is what a will is for, and a will can become part of a comprehensive estate plan. Of course, not everyone receives the key to a city. What treasures exist in your family?

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