Abandoned at birth: Sisters find each other after 5 decades

Abandoned at birth: Sisters find each other after 5 decades (Family Photo Sandra Richards)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Sandra Richards grew up as an only child in Arizona.

She raised five kids and settled in Union, Kentucky. But she left something very important behind in Phoenix more than five decades ago. Richards was the only daughter of Jackie and Viola Jean Hopkins. Or so she thought for the last 55 years.

Out in the backwoods of Kentucky overlooking a state park, life was quiet, peaceful, and relatively predictable. Richards and her grown kids liked it that way. But an email Sandra got in August 2016, was about as unpredictable as she could ever have imagined.

“Hi Sandra, my name is Linda doing DNA research and looking for family members. My mother is Viola Jean, married to Joe Bergfeld. I have a sister named Sandra born January 16th, 1961. I was wondering if that could be you?”

Sandra's father died from tuberculosis before she was 7, her mother passed away 7 years ago, but the mom people loved to call "Mean Jean" told her once of an older brother Alan born with a hole in his heart that didn't survive. And one other heartbreaking memory that haunted her.

“She told me growing up, after me she had a set of twins that didn't survive after they were born. And that was the end of it,” said Sandra.

Until July 17, 2016, when she went on Facebook and saw a picture of Linda, who looked like her. At first Sandra thought someone was messing with her, like a joke, but she saw the picture and knew.

Turns out Linda Marshall was born in Phoenix in 1962, 13 months after Sandra, and abandoned two weeks after birth. Placed in foster care then adopted, Linda wasn't allowed to look for her birth family until she was 18, and then spent the next 36 years searching. Finally enlisting the group DNA Detectives to help. In 17 days, they found Sandra.

Cece Moore, Founder of DNA Detectives, said, “There was two people that shared 3% of her autosomal DNA, that means they likely shared great grandparents. So by looking at those people’s family tree that led us directly to her family tree.”

So many questions, so few answers, and so little sleep for the pair that had emailed and Facebooked each other, but hadn't yet looked into a sister’s eyes.

The words were hard to come by at first but the feelings were like they'd known each other all their lives. They could have talked for hours, predictably, like sisters do. Sandra insisted there was no anger and no explanation needed. She considered Linda the greatest gift her late mother and father could have left her.

When asked what she wanted out of it, she said, “I just want to hug my sister, just hug my sister, tell her how much I love her.”

And she will have that chance. Wednesday night on Local 12, the reunion 54 years in the making.


close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off