Santa Ynez resident tracks down the family of the 80-year-old dress that was worn on her own wedding day | Belief & Values
Two brides are forever bound after wearing the same vintage three-piece wedding dress five decades apart, even though they never met.
Santa Ynez’s KC Thompson recently adapted the 80-year-old wedding dress she wore 32 years ago to wed her now husband Sam Thompson in 1989, Thompson was inspired to revive the family by Ellen Prince, the original owner.
“I held on to this story for a long time,” Thompson said. “I was on a mission to find someone related to Ellen – but that was in the years before the internet.”
As Thompson began sifting through her pool of music collectibles for resale, the desire to fully renew the search for Prince’s family was piqued when she came across the carefully wrapped wedding dress in her attic during a pandemic spring cleaning.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Thompson recalled. “One day while walking I said to myself: ‘I’ll call the Alpena-Zeitung.'”
Prince was born in Alpena, Michigan in the early 20th century before moving to Los Angeles County with her family as a young woman.
Through the town’s local newspaper, Thompson was effectively able to put out feelers that reached Alpena’s amateur genealogist Jayna Huotari. Thompson credits Huotari as the key person in the search for George Light, Prince’s great-nephew, who currently resides in Illinois.
“Some people helped,” Thompson said, “but Jayna was the one who came up with phone numbers.”
Not only was Light receptive to the news with just one phone call, Thompson said, he was moved by her efforts to reunite his great-aunt’s personal belongings – including her 80-year-old wedding gown – with her ancestors.
“George is a hilarious guy and knew a lot about his family,” she said. “I hope to meet him.”
Two worlds collide
In the 1980s, while Thompson lived in the San Fernando Valley and worked in the music industry, her cousin Richard Payton came across a house where people were clearing boxes and placing them on the curb. Payton stopped and asked if the items were take away and was given permission to take a load.
“Everything just went in the trash,” recalls Thompson.
Come and find out that the house belonged to Prince and was sold after her death. Some of the towed items that Payton claimed once belonged to Prince.
No less a time capsule that Payton gave to his cousin, Thompson became the new owner of Prince’s wedding chest. Inside was the three-piece wedding dress, which consisted of creamy white satin panties, a V-neck and a V-back lace sweater ensemble, complete with an old-fashioned long-sleeved beige lace dressing gown that buttoned the wrist and flowed into one 3 foot pull and twirled around the bride’s feet.
Thompson tried the dress on and found it fitted like a bespoke masterpiece.
“I figured this thing would suit me,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t even dating at the time, so I had a wedding dress long before I had a boyfriend.”
Other items found in the wedding chest included love letters from Prince’s husband, family photos, a Bible, and a pair of beige pumps that accompany the wedding dress, Thompson said they also fitted like a glove.
Remembering Ellen Prince
After more than 30 years of sporadic attempts to find Prince’s family to bring their belongings home safely, Thompson said she had finally solved the mystery.
Due to Light’s insistence, Thompson still remains the owner of the wedding dress and shoes.
“We both agreed there was no need to send him the wedding dress,” Thompson said. “Besides, nobody could wear it because it is falling apart. It’s almost 100 years old; it’s very fragile.”
Prince’s other family heirlooms have since been returned to Light, “who has looked forward to receiving them.”
“It felt really good to be returning the items to someone with a deep connection to their family,” said Thompson.
Thompson drew even more parallels between the two brides and also learned through Light that Prince graduated from UCSB, which is in the same area where Thompson and her husband were married 32 years ago and lived for several years.
“I felt her on me the whole time,” Thompson said of Prince. “I feel like we’re soul mates.”
Lisa André reports on lifestyle and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record.