Go west

Wow, what a weekend! Before I talk about this experience, I have to apologize for the lack of posts this week. Lauren and I returned from our trip to Utah 3 days ago and we are still processing the meaning and consequence of this first introduction to this side of the family.

Great-aunt Geri and great-uncle Rich graciously welcomed us into their home and shared their stories and thoughts about the family and the mystery surrounding Marcia’s disappearance. Geri is Marcia’s husband’s sister and Rich is one of his best friends. They were both at the party the night that Marcia went missing and may be two of the only people who can tell us anything about that night. As a bonus, we got a chance to meet their son, Johnny, who brought his own unique perspective and flair.

The conversation was, as you may guess, illuminating. You have two people reminiscing about events that happened 65 years ago, mixing in some gentle bickering and repetition. While I acknowledge that we were only hearing one side of the story, I can appreciate the earnestness and candor they displayed. They did not hold back on bits that might be unsavory for the family.

In the next couple of weeks, with the first podcast episodes, you’ll get to hear from them directly. Here is a little background to set the stage for our conversations with Geri and Rich:

In early 1951, Marcia Arand married Patrick Nolan and in August of that year, her daughter Sharon was born. Marcia was two years out of high school, and just 19 years old. Patrick was a couple of years older than her and there isn’t a lot of evidence that they knew each other long before getting married.

When Marcia went missing, the spotlight inevitably turned on Patrick as a potential suspect. Distraught and consumed with finding his wife, he never pursued custody of his daughter. As a result of this, Marcia’s family sought to be granted custody of the baby. Marcia’s own mother, Betty, did not show much interest in raising her granddaughter, but her sister-in-law Helen stepped in and offered to take on guardianship of her favorite niece’s daughter. Helen was not married and had no children of her own. Additionally, her family had helped to raise Marcia when her father (and Helen’s brother) passed away in Marcia’s infancy.

Sharon had limited contact with her father, Patrick. He was never a part of her life, apart from a couple of occasions when she was little. Likewise, Sharon’s children did not have any contact with their biological grandfather. Lauren never met Patrick, as far as she recollects. He died in 1985 when she was 10, so there would have only been the potential for contact when she was quite young. And her brother Aaron was only 5 when Patrick died so he likely wouldn’t remember him anyway.

Intellectually, Lauren knew that Patrick probably had other family, representing a whole side of her lineage that was simply missing from her life experience. Cousins, uncles, and aunts. These are all people with whom she could have had a relationship – sharing stories, cracking jokes and teasing each other. Generally, doing what families do. But you don’t miss what you don’t know you’re missing. Lauren accepted that she had hidden branches in her family tree, and suspected that there was not much that she could do about bringing them to light.

When Geri Thomas entered her life, it made Lauren aware that the existence of unknown relatives was not just some unprovable theory, but instead a reality. Much to our delight, we are discovering that this investigation is not only leading us to new insights about what happened to Marcia Nolan, but also introducing us to new family histories and connections.


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