June 15, 2011 -- There are $16 billion worth of U.S. savings bonds that have already reached their maximum value but haven't been claimed.
You may wonder how somebody could lose track of an investment like this. The thing is, savings bonds take 20 to 40 years to mature, so people sometimes just forget about them.
But it's worth checking, because the average successful search turns up bonds worth about $1,000.
Jerry Williams of Pennsylvania remembers seeing patriotic promotional ads as a girl. So when she became a young working woman, she started buying savings bonds.
It was like an old-fashioned 401k.
"It's just been a blessing in our lives," Williams said.
When Williams saw a "Good Morning America" link about unclaimed savings bonds, she didn't think she'd find any because she had always kept hers in a safe and thought she'd cashed them all in.
"I thought, 'oh well, I'll just do it anyway.' Bang -- there it was. And it was a thrill," she told "GMA."
"Count me in" is what Lorraine Silva and 70 others said when the Treasury Department was looking for volunteers to help reunite citizens with their savings bonds.
"It's very rewarding to feel that you've done something to make somebody happy and to perhaps change their life in some way," Silva said.
In some cases, bonds are so old that workers have to search microfilm archives for documentation.
The government's savings bond push was such a success that it takes a million microfilm reels in a room the length of a football field to hold all of the records.
Sure enough, some of those records were Williams'.
When Silva called with the good news, Williams was stunned. She had invested $50 and figured she'd get a hundred back, but got $521 instead -- 10 times her original investment.
"I thought, I'm just going to plant flowers," she said. "$500 worth. $500 worth of flowers. I'm just planting them."
That would make a beautiful ending to the story, but there's more. I suggested Williams search for savings bonds in her husband's name.
She found some.
And then, while "GMA" was at Williams' house, she found still more unredeemed savings bonds for her daughter, Becky Maholic.
Maholic now continues the tradition, buying savings bonds for her son.
"It'll be exciting to see if my son ever has the same excitement. Lost money that's found," Maholic said.
In the end, the Williams family received checks for a total of $924.
If you're now inspired to check for savings bonds in your family's name, it's easy. And it's worth checking back often because the government adds another half million bonds to the database every month as they mature.
So what's the largest dollar amount of savings bonds owed to any one person?
Somebody out there is the lucky owner of 13,000 savings bonds worth a total of $2.5 million.