Michele Dugan was in foster care as a child and was eventually adopted with her brother by a couple in Southern California near where she was born.
“I always wondered where I came from and who I looked like,” she said. “I had a lot of questions, but my adoptive parents didn’t have many answers.”
“As I grew older, I just knew there had to be somebody else out there who was related to me,” she added.
She signed up with a DNA match company and about three years ago discovered that she had several half siblings.
One of them — a sister — lived just 15 minutes down the road. That was just the beginning of the similarities.
“I was shocked to learn how close she was,” Dugan said. “In fact, the hair went up on the back of my neck.”
The sister who was practically a neighbor, Trish Morgan-Tilley, 52, has the same father as Dugan. When the pair met face-to-face for the first time, in 2019, they were floored by parallels in their lives.
Morgan-Tilley said it was almost like seeing a ghost when Dugan walked into the Italian restaurant where they had their first meeting.
“Michele slid into the booth with these fiery blue eyes, and it was just like looking at my dad,” she said. “I couldn’t stop staring at her. There was no doubt she was my sister. We started finishing each other’s sentences.”
Dugan has two sons, while Morgan-Tilley has a son and three daughters. Two of their children graduated from the same high school together in 2018, before the sisters knew about each other.
“Our kids didn’t know each other, but Trish and I were both there that day filming the graduation ceremony from different angles,” she said. “It’s incredible to think that we probably passed each other at the school or the grocery store over the years.”
Dugan said she was first motivated to look for her relatives while watching television in October 2018 when an Ancestry commercial came on and she decided to open an account and send in a sample of her DNA.
In January 2019, the results came back: She was of Scottish, English and Irish heritage, and there was a long list of people who shared her DNA.
Dugan said she contacted the person with the highest DNA match and learned that she had six half siblings scattered across the United States — four half brothers and two half sisters — all with the same birth father. She also learned she was the product of an affair he’d had while married.
But she was delighted to learn about the sister who had lived nearby in Las Vegas for most of her life.
“A sister living in the same town! It was what I’d always dreamed of,” Dugan said.
She said she immediately reached out on Facebook.
Trish Morgan-Tilley was just five months older than Dugan and had the same interests of cooking, traveling and real estate. Dugan started selling homes in Las Vegas in 1998, and her sister had gone to real estate school but hadn’t yet received her license.
In June 2019, Dugan encouraged her newfound sister to take Nevada’s real estate licensing exam. When Morgan-Tilley passed the test, Dugan put forth an idea: How about if Morgan-Tilley came to work with her at Realty One Group in Las Vegas?
“Trish immediately said yes, and I took her under my wing,” said Dugan. “I’ve sold a couple of thousand properties over the years, so I started to show her everything I knew about the real estate business.”
Morgan-Tilley said she was happy to have a new career path after years of bartending and selling vacation timeshares.
“My sister has a heart of gold — the thought of working with her every day and getting to know her better was exciting,” she said.
She and Dugan quickly settled on a name for their team: Sisters Selling Vegas.
When the real estate company where they both now work asked employees this spring for some interesting personal stories, the sisters realized they had the perfect tale to tell.
“Then, after we told them about it, we thought, ‘Why not also call the local news?’” said Dugan. “It’s just crazy wonderful that we found each other the way we did.”
Now, being in each other’s daily lives, they’ve done a lot of bonding. They also have learned about each other’s pasts.
Morgan-Tilley said she has lived in Las Vegas since she was 8, and she enjoyed her childhood with her two brothers. Meanwhile, Dugan and her brother were adopted by a family and grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley.
“Our birth mother was a single parent who wasn’t able to care for herself, let alone two kids,” said Dugan, noting that her biological mother died in 2002.
“When I found Trish and my other new half siblings, I was happy to finally get some answers about my birth father,” she said.
Morgan-Tilley said that after she met Dugan, she talked to her mother and learned that her father had had an affair. But, to her knowledge, nobody in the family knew that the affair had resulted in a pregnancy.
“Our dad was a charismatic person who loved people, and everybody loved him,” she said, adding that her father died in 2004.
“He was always a good dad to me and my brothers,” Morgan-Tilley said.
Dugan’s adoptive father died in 1997, but her mother is still living and is supportive about the discovery of her birth family, she said.
“She knows it’s a wonderful gift,” Dugan said. “I know where I came from and I now have two families to love.”
She and her sister said they both feel that they’ve beaten long odds in Las Vegas.
“We missed the first 48 years, so we’re going to make every day count with the time we have left,” Morgan-Tilley said.