Finding Geneva: A Lifelong Quest Ends With Answers

ScanCafe customer Jan shares this incredibly gripping account of her search for a ‘mystery’ family member:

Who is she? Where does she live? Is she still alive? What does she look like? Can I see a picture of her? What happened to her? Why don’t you talk about her? These are a few of the questions I always had about my father’s only sister and sibling. I only knew she was eight years older than my father and that her name was Geneva. But she always remained the “mystery woman” in my life.  

I grew up with no aunts, uncles or cousins. My father had his sister, Geneva, who I never knew or met. My mother was an only child. I did have three great aunts, my maternal grandmother’s sisters. Two of them had one daughter each, my mother’s cousins. All kids’ families are different in make-up. Some are large, some small and some are a jumbled up mix of a whole bunch of characters. Despite growing up happily in my own unique family I always wondered about Geneva. No matter how many times I asked my parents about my mystery aunt, they never told me more than her name and age. Kids have active imaginations. In my mind, Geneva became a nurse, a teacher, a spy, an actress and even an axe murderer!  I wondered if I would ever solve the mystery of who she really was and what she looked like.

I was in high school when I began taking photos. As the years passed I “graduated” to not only taking 110 photos (with the flash that required changing bulbs) but also to taking movies…on film…with no sound. I guess I followed in my father’s footsteps. He took endless 50 foot reels of movie film and spliced them together. I’m forever grateful that he did that. As my own children entered high school and I continued to take photos, I also videotaped each of their senior years, giving them and their classmates their video yearbooks. It was important to me to “tell a story” from start to end. Perhaps it was that one story without an end – of my mystery Aunt Geneva – that created this need in me to document my life and family.  

After my children were grown, I began researching my roots. I dabbled here and there, sometimes devoting weeks to research, sometimes not touching it for months. My father had passed away several years before, taking with him any information he might have been able to give me about his sister. My mother, being a very private person, chose not to share much family history with me. My maternal grandmother did give me a few clues to her own family. Over the next few years, I was overjoyed with the arrival of our two grandchildren. This reignited the spark in me to fill in the blanks about our family, in order to pass along this history. When it became available I submitted my DNA to a research site. Little did I know that by doing the test I would blast a hole wide open in the Geneva mystery.

It started as an ordinary day. I was checking my email when I saw that I had received a private message through the DNA site. Millions of people have their DNA processed and recorded on this site. All of the results are entered into a database. Members are then “matched” to others with connected DNA and can publicly share their family trees. I had received a couple of private messages before. Nothing much had come of them, and so I didn’t expect much from this new message. Then I opened it.

Frank had submitted his DNA to the site. After he saw a match with mine, Frank looked at my family tree and saw a familiar name on it. Geneva. That’s when he emailed me. Frank, it turns out, was Geneva’s grandson! The world kind of stopped for me. After all of these years I had found Geneva, my “mystery woman”. Frank had questions. I had questions. There was so much to share and compare. Frank connected me to his father Hal, Geneva’s son and my first cousin whom I never knew. That email opened up my world and sent me on a journey of discovery that I will never forget.

Geneva's grandson, Frank
Geneva’s grandson, Frank

Like me, Frank was also a “picture person” and he gave me a gift – a photo from his collection. For the first time in my life I was looking at a photo of Geneva….a real picture of Geneva. I did a little happy dance that day. Frank actually sent me many photos of his grandmother at different stages of her life, along with some of her family. He sent me Geneva’s obituary, which listed her burial place as a cemetery in Utah. It’s funny how things happen sometimes. Just about the time we were leaving on a trip to Utah to further research our family roots, I received that obituary telling me exactly where to find Geneva in that state.

My mystery woman, my aunt Geneva
My ‘mystery woman, my aunt Geneva

After a few days in Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, my husband and I headed out of town to Valley View Memorial Park. It took a little searching to locate Geneva in the cemetery. It’s hard to describe the emotions going through me as I approached her grave. I never truly expected that day to come. Looking down at her name on the marker, I said softly. “Hi Geneva. I’m Jan, your niece. It’s nice to finally meet you”. There were tears that day – of happiness to have finally found her and sadness that I never had the chance to know her and her family.



I have had several of Geneva’s photos restored by ScanCafe. I think she would be happy about that. It turns out Geneva was the photographer in her family, as I have been in my family. Isn’t it interesting how family traits are passed down? Our mutual love of photography gives me a special connection to the aunt I never knew. I also noticed a family resemblance in one the restored photos. One of her daughters and I looked somewhat alike when we were kids!

After discovering ScanCafe, I was determined to preserve all of our family photos for my kids, grandkids and descendants. I had collected thousands of photos over the years, including many my parents had saved. I shipped them all to ScanCafe. They have restored photos that I thought couldn’t be salvaged.

I guess it is because, growing up, I didn’t see many family photos or hear many stories that I am determined to be the “family historian” for my own family. I couldn’t do it alone. ScanCafe has been my trusted partner from day one, taking as much care with my photos as I do and performing miracles with “hopeless” pictures. They helped me bring into focus my “mystery woman”, my long lost Aunt Geneva. I wonder what other “miracles” are in store ahead.

mystery woman my long lost Aunt Geneva