Grace Kivisto was 15 when her mother, Lula Cora Hood, disappeared back in 1970. She was adopted by relatives when her mom didn't return.
"She just left one day. She would usually return eventually. But we never heard a thing," said Kivisto.
Then, in 1996, police called the family. Human remains had been found in a Galesburg brickyard. Bad news.
"They said that it was her. But they couldn't do DNA
at the time, because it wasn't that advanced yet," Kivisto recalled.
"Cora", as she was called, was assumed dead. The family buried the recovered remains.
"We had a memorial service," said Kivisto.
"I just decided she's with God now," said Cora's niece, Bernadine Collis.
Two years ago, when DNA technology was much-improved, Cora's family offered DNA to investigators, now that the technology was there to definitely identify the family connection.
Last week, the stunned family learned the remains were female, but not Cora.
"We were back to square one," said Kivisto.
That was, until Thursday morning, June 30, 2011.
"I was out gardening, and a detective came to tell me that they had found my mother. Alive. In Jacksonville
!" said Kivisto.
She was surprised by her tears after so many years had passed.
After DNA ruled out Cora as a match to the remains, police reopened their investigation. Sgt. Jason Landers launched an online search for Lula Cora Hood, using her first and middle name and date of birth.
A match was found in Florida. Investigators are convinced that the woman they found, who is now 84, is Cora.
"It's a miracle," says Collis. She cried just thinking about seeing her long-lost aunt again after 40 years. ''We were real close. I'm hoping she'll come back and be family again. I'll do everything in my power to help her."
The family says Cora had left after a family feud and never returned, not even for her children. Cora had 14 children altogether, and she dealt with mental health issues in her adult life.
After believing her mom was dead, then discovering she is alive, Grace Kivisto just wants to reunite.