How Doing Family History Unlocked A Long Held Family Secret

How Doing Family History Unlocked a Long Held Family Secret

By Amber Topping

I never fully understood the significance of doing family history until I uncovered a long guarded family secret: that my grandfather Harold McCoury, who was assumed dead for 50 years, was in fact still alive and looking for his long lost daughter, my mother Sandee.

How Doing Family History Unlocked a Long Held Family Secret

Arizona resident Sandee Adragna and her father Harold McCoury stop to take a quick photo together after meeting for the first time in Florida following half a century spent apart. Photo Courtesy of Sandra Adragna.

Growing up, all I knew about my grandfather was the story of his “death.” Turns out it was an elaborate lie concocted by my teenage grandmother, Jacqueline Brownell, and her mother Agnes meant as a way to protect her reputation. After they both passed away, the mystery of who Harold was went with them.

The mystery began to unfold, however, when the famous bluegrass group, The Del McCoury Band shared some genealogical information with us about the McCoury family line. From there, I borrowed a few tips from Who Do You Think You Are and began digging. I wanted to be able to fill in our family tree, but how could I if I couldn’t even confirm Harold’s actual identity?

One day, frustrated, I remember saying aloud to myself, “Grandma, it’s time to let this secret go. Help me find him.” Literally, a few minutes later I found the one clue that connected it all together. This clue then led me to the record of a living Harold McCoury on ancestry.com. Eventually, I discovered this same Harold McCoury happened to be on Facebook. But was this my mother’s father?

Almost immediately after my mother sent him a message, Harold responded. Over the phone, he confirmed that he was in fact her father. But then he made a shocking revelation: He had been looking for her for 50 years!

A few months later, we drove to Florida to meet him. I stood as a curious observer as this “stranger” cried tears of joy and gave his daughter a hug for the first time. My mother describes the experience as “exciting.” She says, “it opened a new world into my mother’s life as a young girl I never knew before.” She further clarified that meeting her birth father didn’t take away from what she already had with the father who raised her. “It just added to it.”

How Doing Family History Unlocked a Long Held Family Secret

Harold McCoury, shown here during his time in the Air Force, spent fifty years looking for his long, lost daughter, Sandee. Her own daughter, Amber Topping, discovered Harold was still alive (who was believed to be deceased) while doing family history and helped bring the two together. Photo Courtesy of Harold McCoury

Later, Harold revealed the truth. When he first learned of the pregnancy, he ran off a scared teenager. However, a few months later Harold returned, only to find Jacqueline gone. He wanted to make up for his mistake, but he was too late. Harold says he eventually received one letter with a baby photo and a first name, but no return address was included. He never stopped looking. I suppose we’ll never know if my Grandma ever received the many letters he tried sending to her last known address.

Today, my mother and grandfather share a good relationship and talk regularly on the phone. We’ve also added many new McCoury names to the family tree. Who knew that doing family history was the key to unraveling this extraordinary mystery?

Do you have an interesting family history story to share? Contact me at ambertopping@hotmail.com

Family History Tip: Did you know that all LDS members can now access ancestry.com for free? Go to https://familysearch.org/partneraccess to sign up. 

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