VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The search is over for a family that was split apart when eight children were sent to orphanages and foster homes decades ago.
The investigative, 15-year search was a labor of love for a woman who wanted to know about her past. They never knew where the search would take them, thanks to a DNA test kit.
Tiana Medley is now a master of finding people: her mother’s family, specifically. Eight children in her family, her siblings, were all sent to orphanages and foster homes decades ago.
Medley has found all but one of them.
“To get the phone call one day, and to find out she has siblings, it was like oh my God,” Medley said about her mother, as tears came down her cheeks.
Medley is emotional about the story — and her accomplishments. She found her mother’s family following a $59 purchase of a DNA kit on Ancestry.com.
She found her mother’s mother, Felacita Verdejo, who died last year. Verdejo had her children sent to foster homes and orphanages because she wasn’t able to be home with them at night.
Until now Medley’s own mother, Evelyn Howell, had never seen a picture of her mom, and during Medley’s search discovered something stunning: Howell is the only surviving quintuplet. Four other newborns died.
“Ancestry.com’s DNA kit made we want to find out more because we have so many uncles and aunts and cousins and they were so excited to talk,” Medley said.
She found her mother’s brother, another brother. Six of seven total, and she is still looking for another. There’s a picture of many family members at Verdejo’s bedside shortly before she died. No one knew about Howell.
But Medley’s tenacity in calling and calling led to one of the sisters, Yvonne Turpin.
Medley recalled her conversation with Turpin: “I’m Yvonne. I’m your mother’s sister.”
“We both were crying, I couldn’t believe it. I was crying, and talking to her. I’ve searched so many years, your name, and last name, and here you are,” Medley said.
Turpin sent to Howell what is now known as “The Picture.” Turpin is holding her younger sister in the New York orphanage.
The circumstances led to an emotional reunion. There’s a video of the embrace when they met at Howell’s home: seeing each other for the first time in 46 years. Sisters again.
Howell still remembers the weight of the moment,
“It was just so surreal. Not seeing her. Always wanting to find out if she is still alive. Is she OK? Did she get married, have children, what has her life turned into? … And then there she was, standing right in front of me. I was so overtaken with emotion because this is something I prayed for years,” Howell said.
10 On Your Side contacted Turpin on Facetime, and she told us the same thing.
“Oh, it took my breath away. I didn’t know what to do, or how to act. I was in shock because I never thought I’d see the day again when I would see her again,”Turpin said.
Imagine all the years. 10 On Your Side asked Turpin about the pictures and what the picture means,
“It’s of my little sister. I would always protect her, I always held her close to my heart, and I tried to be a mother to her.”
The years would separate them, then bring them back together, but as fate would have it, their visit cut short due to COVID-19.
Turpin was here and quickly gone, Howell recalled.
“She had a doctor’s appointment in New York, so she had to leave because she had to quarantine for 15 days before the appointment. They put that travel restriction in New York the day after she got here,” she said.
The good news: Reunions await, a family is reunited. What joy at what they have found after 46 years.
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