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Woman reconnects with deceased grandfather while trying to return stranger’s rings

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William A. Sweetland, Jr. at a treasure expo. | Courtesy Christina Sweetland

IDAHO FALLS — When three different class rings from the 1980s stumbled into Christina Sweetland’s possession, it was almost as if she was being asked to solve a family mystery of sorts.

It all started with her grandfather William A. Sweetland, Jr., a relative Christina didn’t know a lot about.

He had died when she was just 9-years-old in March 1994. But while living in Idaho Falls several years ago, she inherited some of his treasures and her curiosity was piqued.

Her grandfather had lived in a town called Sea Girt, New Jersey. After suffering a heart attack and undergoing bypass surgery in the late 1970s, his doctor recommended he start walking three miles a day to improve his cardiovascular system.

To make walks more enjoyable, he bought a metal detector and started exploring the Jersey Shore and surrounding areas. He found some interesting things such as an engagement ring, a set of teeth and a silver-colored Nazi S.S. ring, the Asbury Park Press reported in 1982.

“I wonder how that got there. … if it came from a shipwreck during World War II or if someone lost it more recently on the beach?” William asked in an interview with the local paper.

He never found that out, or anything about the origins of three class rings he also discovered with his metal detector.

For about 25 years, the three class rings — dated 1980, ’81 and ’89 — had been passed around the family, Christina said. Each ring also had a school name and the full name of its owner engraved inside each band.

“They’re not mine. They deserve to be with who owned them. I just thought that if it was me, if I bought something, I’m always really grateful to have it back,” Christina said. “I’m not sure why he didn’t return these ones and what the situation was there, but it’s something that he would have done. It’s the right thing to do.”

So in February, her mission became to return the rings to their rightful owners.

“I was very excited about the challenge of finding the owners and returning their property in the internet age, something Grandpa never even fathomed,” Christina told EastIdahoNews.com.

When he tried to return things, he had to rely on word of mouth or place an ad in the newspaper, she said.

The three class rings dated 1980, ’81 and ’89. | Courtesy Christina Sweetland

Sweetland began Googling names, browsing websites and messaging Facebook groups.

After researching, Sweetland found the owner of the 1989 Pennsylvania College ring on LinkedIn, a professional networking website.

Sweetland was concerned it would be tough to find the owner of a 1981 New Jersey high school ring because it belonged to a female. She thought she may have gotten married and changed her last name.

“I searched for the name on the ring with a variety of combinations of clues with too many results. … in a stroke of luck, the town library had digitized all of the yearbooks. I found her senior yearbook and searched it for instances of her name,” she explained. “The back of the book listed the students’ addresses and phone numbers. I did more searching with the new information and found what might be her married name and some associated names.”

Once again, she connected on LinkedIn, but this time with the daughter of the jewelry owner.

“She relayed to me her mother’s shock that someone had found it and how it had been lost in the ocean in 1982,” Sweetland recalls.

Two of the three rings have since been returned. Sweetland is still trying to find the owner of the male 1980 ring from Freehold, New Jersey. A class of 1980 Facebook group informed her that the man’s parents owned a Chinese food restaurant.

“One woman even said she was with him on the shore the day he lost the ring,” Sweetland said.

While vague memories is what she remembers about her grandfather, Sweetland said through this adventure, she’s felt connected to him in a new way.

“The story isn’t necessarily just about returning lost treasure. It’s (about) reconnecting with your roots,” Sweetland said. “If you’re thinking about everything going on these days, a lot of people got a lot of extra time stuck at home. Talk to your grandparents and family and learn some cool stories.”

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