I recently discovered some old mutual-fund certificates from the 1960s. How can I find their current value?

QUESTION: I recently discovered a few old mutual-fund certificates from 1961 and 1966 that were issued by Affiliated Fund, and which, through research, I learned were "absorbed" into Lord Abbett Affiliated fund. How can I find their current value?

-- C. Runyon

ANSWER: Sounds like you have a knack for detective work. Knowing that those old shares would now be folded into the Lord Abbett Affliliated fund (LAFFX) is more than half the battle of finding their value.

And they might be worth more than you think. After all, if your certificates are indeed authentic, that means that you (or the original owner) have probably been reinvesting the dividends all these years to buy more shares. And that should be welcome news: The large-cap value fund has returned on average 12.3% each year since 1961, according to Doug Sieg, Lord Abbett's marketing director. A $1,000 investment in 1961 with dividends reinvested would be worth $106,650. The same amount deposited in 1966 would amount to $59,065. (Providing an excellent example of the power of compounding.)

Before you get too excited, however, you need to find out if your certificates are still legitimate, cautions John Nester, a spokesman with the Securities and Exchange Commission. "You should be aware that in most cases, the stock certificates have no value," he says. Old stock and fund certificates often turn out to be cancelled securities or simply duplicate copies of shares sold long ago. In some cases -- although not in yours -- the company has long since gone out of business and the shares are worthless.

Your next step should be to contact the fund family to see if they have a record of your shares. "This happens all the time," Sieg says. Simply call the shareholder service line at 800-821-5129 and provide your Social Security number along with the certificates' numbers. "If it's valid, obviously we'll honor it," he says, adding that they'll also tally your portfolio's value.

Now, in your case, it sounds as if tracking down your shares wasn't all that hard. But anyone in your situation who runs into problems can always hire a private firm, like Stock Search International, to handle the inquiry. For an $85 fee, the Tucson, Ariz.-based firm will trace the corporate history of mutual funds and stocks and evaluate the likely worth of your shares, says Pierre Bonneau, chief executive of Stock Search, which has recovered more than $6 million in over 32 years of business. At that point, investors can head out on their own to pursue the assets, or hire the firm to go after the money for a 30% share of the take. Research into old assets leads to money one-fifth of the time, Bonneau says.

The lesson here? Keep careful records when it comes to your investments, says Dee Lee, a Harvard, Mass.-based certified financial planner. "You should have a detailed record of when you bought it?and if you sold it," she says. So organize your files, tuck paperwork away regularly and save those annual statements. In other words, try not to get into this jam in the first place.

For more tips on tracking down old shares, visit the SEC Web site.