The grave marker simply said “Mrs. McVay”

In 1856, Mary Isabelle Riley was born to Isaac Riley and Mary Dewit Higgins in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Her family later moved to Wilson County, Kansas – where Mary Isabelle met and married Miles Mallet McVay in 1876. They were soon blessed with a baby boy named Willie. She was pregnant with her second child when 8-month-old Willie died.

Four short months after she buried her firstborn, she gave birth on the 15th of December, 1877 to Edward Isaac McVay (my husband’s grandfather). In 1881, she had a daughter – Lillian May known as “Lillie” and in 1896, Gladys Madeline was born.

Mary Isabelle followed her railroad-working-husband all over New Mexico. She lived at about every spot where a train station was built. She often took the trains to travel with her daughters and to visit family and friends in Kansas.

She lost her husband in 1914 and in 1922, Gladys died. Last year, I found more information in New Mexico Deaths. Mary Isabelle Riley McVay died the 15th of July, 1925 in  in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

My husband, Ron, wanted to find the grave of his g-grandmother, so we took the information we had and headed on a road trip to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

We walked thru the weeds and graves at the Odd Fellows Cemetery for a long time before we found her marker. It simply said, “Mrs. McVay.”

Hello Genetic Relative!

Hello Genetic Relative! was the opening line in an email from a previously unknown cousin trying to trace his roots. I understand his search because my father, sister, and grandson were all adopted. I know that adoptees desire to know their family histories for various reasons. Recently, an adult wanted to know the medical histories of their family of origin for health reasons. Occasionally, a person will find out later in life that they aren’t “who they think they are” because for various reasons the truth was kept from them and so they seek it out. For some, their heart craves a reunion of a soul they are related to by DNA, perhaps someone who shares their unique eyebrows or taste for tapenade.

I believe that everyone is entitled to know his or her story. So far this year, I was able to find the family histories of eight people. Some have experienced delightful reunions and others’ messages have gone unanswered. Regardless, the truth is somehow freeing.

Click here to order your own  AncestryDNA to find out your story!

Photo: Jacob Riis/Public Domain


Losing Touch With A Sister

This is a photograph of my sister, Fara, and I when we were young. In those early years, our lives were mostly spent together: riding in the back seat of the Buick, swimming in the creek, and rolling down what we then though was a hill in our front yard but now realize was a slight incline. I was a towhead and she had dark hair. When our mother dressed us in matching clothes, as she often did, we looked like a salt and pepper set. When we were teenagers someone told us, “If you don’t have the same father – you are only HALF-sisters.” We gasped and indignantly replied, “We’re just sisters!” In the natural progression of things, Fara and I went our own way, pursued our dreams and lived the lives we chose. Sometimes, along the way, we forgot that we were more alike than different. Fortunately, because of the strong family ties that bind our hearts, we were able to work through our differences and we now see each other often.This wasn’t the case with a client from my work as an ancestry researcher and I couldn’t help but be moved by the story she told. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget how important it is to keep in touch– especially with my sister.

“My sister died.” A very elderly caller told me.
“I am so sorry to hear that.” I replied
“I didn’t like her!” She snapped.
“I’m sorry to hear that, too.”
She took a deep breath and then whispered, “I’m going to miss her.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss. How can I help you?” I asked.
“I want to know if she was alone when she died.”
“I can do a little research,” I explained, “I can definitely find paperwork for you, but I’m not sure if I can find that out.”
“We lost touch back in the 50s.” She went on.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “the 1950s?”
“Yes, we had a falling out over some-such thing,” she began to reminisce, “although I don’t remember what. We were different. It’s hard to believe we came from the same parents.”
“You haven’t communicated since the 1950s?” I was clearly stuck on that point.
“You know how it is,” she responded, “we just didn’t have a lot in common.”
I asked all of the usual questions and told her, “I’ll get back to you when I have some information.”

“How sad,” I told my husband. “Can you imagine losing touch for nearly seven decades?”
“It’s not that uncommon for families to fall apart,” he reminded me, “it happens all the time.”
“Yes, I know. But I can tell by her voice that she regrets the lost years.”

A few weeks later she called. “Thank you for the photograph of my sister, ” she said, “of course, I hadn’t seen her older.” The line went silent as she wept.
I paused, waiting for her to compose herself, and then asked, “Did you get all the other paperwork I attached to the email?”
“Yes, I did. ” She said and then asked, “Did you ever find out the other thing?”
“No,” I said apologetically, “I wasn’t able to find that out.”
She loudly sighed and then said, “I’m always going to wonder if she was alone when she died.”
“So will I,” I responded, “so will I.”

Have You Been Left in The Dark about Your Family History?


My father is a Private Investigator and I once worked for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, so I guess being a snoop runs in the family. My current endeavor, as an Ancestry Researcher, started when I solved the nearly 80-year-old mystery of how my dad ended up in an orphanage. People began contacting me – asking if I could shed a little light on their family history.

I have found that most people have a few skeletons in their family closet and sometimes they take their secrets to the grave. Benjamin Franklin said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Secrets can make you sick. Often, the guilt eats away at the person and they make confessions later in life and sometimes even on their deathbed. While I’m not an advocate of unnecessarily airing dirty laundry, there are times when being open and transparent is called for – ESPECIALLY when it involves others. Let’s be honest, in this day and age it’s pretty hard to keep anything hush-hush.

My father was born to Stella Miller, an unwed mother, during a time when these things were certainly not spoken about. He was placed in an orphanage and later adopted. When Stella died in 1979, she took the secret of the birth father’s identity to her grave. Last year, using a DNA test, old newspaper articles, and online family trees we were able to solve the mystery. My father’s DNA was able to reveal what Stella never did and my father was able to meet his birth father’s family.

Being “left in the dark” is not usually a comfortable place to be. When the night is scary the sunrise is a welcome sight. While it’s not my job to publically reveal anyone’s secrets – I love the quote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Once a situation is out in the open it loses the strangling grip it had on all involved. Do you have a family secret? Open the door and let the light in.

Step #1 – Get your DNA done thru AncestryDNA 


When researching  family history – or looking for a birth family – DNA is the way to go. In my experience, the paper trail isn’t always accurate, but you can’t deny the science of a dna connection.

I have found that the best way to start researching your family is by AncestryDNA. They have a large database of users and many have family trees connected to their results.

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