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Hours of sleuthing by a stranger helps a daughter get back her mother's keepsakes.

In the summer of 1996, a Clearwater woman packed up some of her family's most precious mementos and shipped them to her mother, who had recently settled into a retirement home in Delaware.

Out of eight boxes, only seven made it.

The last one - the most important - seemed destined to be lost forever.

Until this year, when another woman's daughter in another state set out on a mission to return it to its rightful owner.

It was "hot as Hades" on July 22, 1996, the day Denise Cartier, then Denise (Pomeroy) James, went to the Pac N' Send on Walsingham Road to mail her mother's boxes.

Jane Pomeroy's memory had begun to slip after the death of her husband of more than 50 years, David.

It was time, Denise said recently, for her mother to move into an assisted-living facility near the Westchester, Pa., home of her oldest son, also named David

Denise and one of her older sisters had finished cleaning out their mother's Dunedin home. Denise was in charge of sending her mother's clothes and keepsakes.

The dresses, slacks and shirts arrived without trouble.

But the one box didn't make it - the one with photos of Jane Pomeroy's parents and children, her 50th anniversary wedding album, her Catholic prayer book.

"When that box was missing, she was devastated by it," Cartier said. "Through the years, she'd say to me 'Where are my things?'

"It was very tough on me, because I was the one who shipped it all."

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Though her memory continued to fade over the years, Jane Pomeroy's passion for life did not, Cartier said.

She met a gentleman at the retirement home and fell in love again. In her 80s, she remarried.

The two had several years of happiness together before Jane Pomeroy died in October 2008.

She never got to see her wedding album again, never got the chance to thumb through the pages of her Catholic missal.

But the story of the missing memories wasn't over.

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In April, a woman in Ohio decided it was time for her to do some decluttering.

While cleaning out the basement, she came across the box.

The woman, now in her late 70s, had received it that summer of 1996 after her sister in Seminole sent her a package.

But the labels must have been mixed up.

When she opened it, she knew it did not belong to her. She put it aside, expecting a call from the shipping company, and soon forgot about it altogether, said her daughter, Linda Hines, of Grovetown, Ga.

When the woman found it this spring, she called Hines and asked for help in returning it to its rightful owner.

Hines, as luck would have it, knows a bit about research.

A special agent for the federal investigative services division of the United States Office of Personnel Management, Hines makes a living doing background investigations.

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Hines called the Pac N' Send number on the label. Disconnected. She called another branch. Staff members there couldn't find a claim.

Another branch never returned her call, she said.

After her mother told her it appeared the items belonged to a David and Jane Pomeroy, she scoured the Internet looking for listings in Florida, then branched out across the country.

She contacted a Pomeroy in Texas who had researched his family tree. No luck.

Hines had hit a dead end.

But when she visited her mother over Memorial Day weekend and finally got to see the box for herself, she found it contained one final clue.

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Tucked in the pages of Jane Pomeroy's prayer book was a postcard Denise James had sent to her parents in April 1983.

Denise had written the note after a family visit. She thanked her mother for the dishes she had brought her, talked about a garage sale she was planning and her upcoming high school reunion.

"I love you both so much," she signed off. "I'm so proud to be your daughter."

Hines started looking for Denise James.

Ultimately, that led her to Denise's former mother-in-law, who in turn sent Hines to Denise's ex-husband.

After investing about 40 hours into the search, Hines had a phone number for Denise, who remarried and is now Denise Cartier.

Hines felt "exuberant," she said, when she finally tracked Denise down.

"Family is our foundation. Family is who we are ...," Hines said. "I was so thankful it was going to be restored to the family.

Hines left a voice mail message, which was picked up by Denise's husband, Jude Cartier.

Jude called Denise on her way home from work one evening in June.

"You have a message on the recorder from a woman who believes she has something that belongs to you," he told her.

"As I'm driving home, it dawns on me," Denise Cartier said. "I said 'It can't be. It can't be the box.' "

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Fourteen years after she last saw it, Denise Cartier was reunited with her mother's prized possessions on July 1 - the day before her 55th birthday.

"The whole time that box was in a basement. What are the odds of it coming back to me?" Denise Cartier asked.

But Cartier said she believes the box was meant to return to her and that maybe, just maybe, her mother had a hand in it.

Jane Pomeroy had lovingly put together photo albums of each of her six children. All of Denise's five siblings received theirs, but Denise never did.

It was in the box.

Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4157 or