(Special thanks to WJBF marketing producer Jared Stepp, WJBF photojournalist Jeremy Crocker and WJBF producer Stephanie French for their outstanding contributions to this project!)
The holidays are traditionally a time for families to come together. And while some of us take family for granted, others would give anything just to know their families.
So many of you responded to a story we brought you over the summer: Looking for Joey, offering clues to help Audrey Crook find her brother.
Many of you shared your own journeys of trying to find out “Who am I? Where did I come from?” or, as in Audrey’s case, “Where is my brother?”
“Joey was born in 1958, September 3rd.”
Take a good look at this little boy: he was Joseph Eugene Sidler then, living in France, a military family with his father Billy and step-mother Myra.
“Our father was a very abusive man, he had a drinking problem.”
Audrey Crook’s memories of her early childhood are painful ones (“There’s only one picture that I have with him in it”) … especially when she thinks about her little brother, Joey.
“I remember him getting locked up in the bedroom; I remember him being sick and he broke a thermometer and my Daddy beat him because he broke the thermometer.”
The Sidlers’ marriage fell apart.
“Myra brought us back to the States.”
Myra sent a letter to France asking Billy Sidler: “What did he want her to do with us. He said, ‘Give them to the court.'”
“She took us to Richmond County Courthouse, Ms. “Bee” Hamilton, and, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t visualize coming down them steps, holding his little hand, and being told, ‘Audrey you go with that family, Joey you go with that family- we don’t love y’all no more.'”
Joey went in one direction and I went in the other. And I remember laying over the backseat crying, ‘I want my brother!'”
Later, Audrey’s “new” father looked into adopting Joey, but discovered shocking news about the couple who took him from the courthouse on February 4, 1965: they gave him back.
April 13, 1965 is the last date that was filed on Joey’s records. I haven’t seen it, that’s just what the judge told me.”
Jen: “If you could just see him right now. What would you say?”
Audrey: “That I love him and I have missed him.”
Thousands of you shared our story after it aired August 4th, and within TWO DAYS, an Edgefield, South Carolina man provided the clue that led Audrey to Joey!
I asked Stacey Coleman to be there when Audrey and Joey met on August 7th– he’s right behind Audrey and she has no idea! Look at the emotion when she got to thank the man who did the right google searches, using a birth date and the name “Joey”!!
Different faces (“It’s been a long time.”)
Same hearts (“I have missed you… God answers prayers. Yes He does.)
“Now, who is this?”
They didn’t get to make memories, but they’ve shared a dream and now they’ll share a family.
“His name is Stacey Coleman.”
“You’re so welcome, you’re so welcome!”
“And I went this way and he went thay way.”
“She was hollering, ‘I want my brother, I want my brother!'”
“Big brother’s here now.”
“Big SISTER!” (laughter)
That was a beautiful moment my crew and I will never forget: tears of joy washing away pain; love surviving decades and distance.
We’ll hear from Joey a little later in the program.
View Part 1 of “Finding Birth Families” below:
Scars, pushed beneath the surface, can last a lifetime.
Just ask Syble Jones, from Blythe, Georgia.
“All children are not adopted for love, but I know one thing… when a child’s taken away from its family, there’s a lot of heartache and a lot of pain they go through. They wonder and they worry for a long time.”
“She told the classroom they was all invited to this girl’s birthday party but me. She said, ‘Everybody but Syble cause she was adopted.’ You don’t know how that hurts.”
It’s been 80 years since Syble Jones was painfully embarrassed in front of her third grade class at Langley Elementary School. She’s never forgotten it, nor the night “Bee” Hamilton took her, and her siblings, from their home.
Her life story is heartwrenching, beginning with a mother who bolted when she was a baby.
The youngest of six children, Syble was only 3 when her mother cashed a paycheck and bought a bus ticket to California. She wouldn’t see her again for 27 years.
“And I was in the hospital. She come in and fell down over me crying, ‘I’m your mother, I love you.’ But I wondered where the love was at those 27 years?”
Syble didn’t feel a lot of love in those years: her father broke his back and couldn’t care for all the children. They were taken away and put into different orphanages.
“Being taken away from your family, you know you’ve got brothers and sisters and every time I would come to Augusta I would look around and see if I could see my brothers or sisters.”
At age 6 she was adopted, along with a boy named David (not her biological brother) by J.B. and Lucille Gurgainous.
“I think people ought to know that all children are not adopted for love. They adopted us for work for them.”
“I had to get up and build a fire in the wood stove- they’d stay in bed every morning while I cooked breakfast and my brother would go milk the cow and feed the hogs. I had to saw wood just like a man- we had to take buckets and walk up and down the railroad tracks and pick up little pieces of coal that had fell off the boxcars.”
And they were mean and abusive:
“I was crying for my brothers and my sisters. She scolded me several times ‘I’ll give you a whipping like you ain’t never had before’- and she said, ‘ you ain’t got brothers and sisters’- but I knew I did have.”
She has vivid memories of one horrific summer night:
“I thought they was gonna kill me that night.”
She was 8 or 9.
“I lived through it, though.”
Both parents came after her.
“He held both of my feet pressed against the wall and my head was on the floor and blood was running down in my hair.”
Lucille was beating her with 3 switches.
“Swamp willow switches. My brother was just crying.”
They forced Syble to quit school at 16 and go to work in a cotton mill, taking everything she earned for two years.
“So one day I walked off to work and didn’t go back. She went to the law and the law told her, ‘She’s 18, you can’t make her go back home.”
Syble wouldn’t find out that she and David weren’t legally adopted until she tried to draw her retirement.
“And when I went to the Social Security board they said, ‘You can’t draw no Social Security.’ He said, ‘You worked under the name Gurgainous, you’re not a Lewis.”
She had to get a lawyer, whose best conclusion, after years of searching, tied Syble and her biological siblings to the infamous black market baby ring in Augusta.
“They was gonna try “Bee” Hamilton and Judge Chambers but he died and the day she was supposed to go to court, she was in the hospital in Florida and she lived about a month after that, so they never did try them.”
Years later, Syble took care of her adopted mother, who was in the end stages of Alzheimers.
View Part 2 of “Finding Birth Families” below:
A big issue for adoptees is medical history, and having no idea about cancer, diabetes, or anything else health-related.
It’s a big concern for Sandra Schmeiden, a nurse from Evans, Georgia.
“You know the person you’ve become, but you don’t know what your background is, especially the medical information. The last thing I’d want is for there to be something and to not know it’s coming.”
Two women filling in the blanks: how the click of a mouse led one to answers about her birth mother’s family, and more.
Welcome back. How many of us take for granted the gift of having been born to parents who loved and -wanted- us?
Wrestling with the question, “why -didn’t- they want me?” is a common denominator for adoptees… and as you’ll see, it can hurt no matter how old you are.
“The dress is the dress I came home to my adoptive family in, The Night Before Christmas is the book I was given…”
Christmas time 1957: 3-year old Mary Louise Moseley was adopted by an Aiken couple.
“…that was my first t-shirt.”
A childhood captured in a shadowbox, early memories as vague as the missing face on her treasured teddy bear.
“I knew I was different. I kind of looked like my adoptive mother because back then they tried to match you up, but I just never felt I belonged. I can remember walking down the streets in Augusta and looking at people, even as a little kid, wondering, could that be my mom?”
Adoption records are sealed in South Carolina, but when she turned 18 she requested her non-identifying information.
Jennie: “You know about your birth mother’s family- and how old the grandparents were- they didn’t know about you?”
Mary Louise: “No.”
“I have no ills against her, I understand. Back in that time people hid that sort of thing.”
At age 40, after searching reunion registries and Ancestry.com, she found her birth mother. In time, the two started writing letters.
“Nice letters, how’s the weather, that sort of thing.”
They never met face-to-face but wrote each other for 20 years. Last year, her mother’s letters stopped coming.
“I wish deep down that if she is still alive, that her family would kind of accept me or give me the chance to meet you and go from there.”
Thanks to a DNA test through Ancestry, she found several half-siblings. It was the biological connection she needed to make sense of a life-long emptiness… knowing that she belonged to somebody.
“A person who isn’t adopted doesn’t know what it’s like to not know who you are. I’ve spent my whole life on this. I think laws about adoption need to be looked at a little differently, maybe, for each individual.”
“You have the right not to ever meet that person or have them show up on your front doorstep -and I completely respect that- but there’s still certain information that you owe that person that you gave birth to.”
“Did she die when she gave birth? I don’t know”
Sandra thinks it should be mandatory for birth mothers to leave their medical history for the baby they’re giving up.
“Without that information you don’t have any way of knowing who you are, really who you are. You don’t know where you came from and you don’t know what your background is.”
“You try to find out on you own, but records are sealed. So you go on a website but you don’t have anything to research with, so where do you start?”
Sandra’s story started October 18, 1967 at St. Joseph Hospital in Augusta. She was one of eight baby girls born there that day. Only one left the hospital -without- a name.
“It was baby girl Martin.”
She believes her birth mother was a teenager from North Carolina, Rebecca Martin.
“If you Google Rebecca Martin, who probably isn’t still Rebecca Martin, you get millions of them.”
She even questions whether she was a “Bee” Hamilton baby.
“To read everything that happened, and it’s all right there, right when I was adopted, right here.”
There’s also the issue of her amended birth certificate:
“Doesn’t have a time when I was born, it doesn’t have a physician’s signature on it, all it has is that I was born at St. Joseph Hospital, written in my adoptive mother’s handwriting- and her signature.”
She can petition the courts to try to get records, but there’s no guarantee that anything would be in those records.
“You start weighing is is worth spending that kind of $ to get another brick wall?”
Sandra grew up in a great family. But there’s a void, a mystery she can’t solve.
“I wonder why they gave me up, I wonder why they didn’t want me.”
The question that haunts most adopted children… of all ages.
“I had a wonderful family, they loved me -everyday- but it’s still not the same as knowing where you came from. Do I have sisters and brothers out there and do they even know that I’m alive? Is there someone who thinks I died? Is there somebody who has mourned me for 40-something years? I want to know, is this person out there looking for me, too? So to find the answers would really just bring it full circle for me.”
Mary Louise did get to meet her half-brother for the first time on August 16th, 2015.
“Our hands matched exactly- the bone structure, the vein structure! It was the calmest day of my life, I think, because I just wanted to find someone who I was related to. I just couldn’t take my eyes off of it because i felt like oh my gosh there’s actually somebody that has something of me!”
“So I’m all for people finding their families, I think it’s great. Whether you get to know that family or not, that’s another thing.”
Learning about your birth family’s health history may be hard and state laws vary.
In Georgia: An adoptee can request non-identifying information, including birth parents’ health history, at age 18. At 21, they can request -identifying- information.
In South Carolina: Both the adoptee and adoptive parents can request medical histories’ of the birth parents. At age 21, the adoptee can request identifying information.
View Part 3 of “Finding Birth Families” below:
“There was times I’d be watching these shows on TV where siblings were finding each other and I’m like, ‘God! ya know.”
Little did Sheila Splain know that -she- would be having a happy reunion with her siblings… and WJBF News Channel 6 cameras were there. You don’t want to miss it!
“And all of a sudden BOOM, you see her. You don’t really know the emotion that you have until you actually feel it. I had to pinch her to make sure it was real.”
Audrey Crook had one wish when we met her in August: to celebrate her brother’s 57th birthday with him. Sometimes, wishes do come true!
Joey Welch/”Spoke to her on the phone- and I think we’re just gonna be like three peas in a pod together, alll three of us, so it’s gonna be real exciting to see her.”
Toccoa, Georgia/September 5, 2015: Joey Welch is about to meet a sister he never knew he had- until he was reunited with the sister he’d been hoping to find for 50 years, Audrey.
“It was real amazing, it was shocking, too.”
It all started with a Facebook message on August 6th, 2015.
“I called my daughter and told her to look a the picture and tell me who that looks like.”
Could it be the sister he remembered from so long ago?
“She called me back and said, ‘Daddy that’s you!'”
The little boy whose last memory of his sister was a traumatizing one: “Audrey went one way and I went the other and all I remember her saying was ‘I want my brother, I want my brother!’ When you are that age you don’t know what’s really going on.”
What was going on was a separation of a family. There were three Sidler children, but the two older ones, Audrey and Joey, were put up for adoption. It was the end of -that- family.
But big sister Audrey never forgot her siblings, and she never stopped looking. When she was in her 30’s, her search for Joey led her to Memphis, Tennessee. She found her birth -father-, not her brother… and an unexpected bonus– baby Sheila!
The two sisters teamed up to find their brother.
Sheila now lives in Oakland, Tennessee.
“I had a PI. and we were looking for Joey, but we found our mother.”
Audrey lives in North Augusta, South Carolina.
“The PI contacted her and she was in Sumter, South Carolina. We met, but it was like strangers because I didn’t remember my mother.”
Audrey and Sheila never lost hope that one day they would find their brother.
Audrey said this in our initial interview in late July: “His birthday’s coming up, and I’d like to have closure, I’d really like to have closure.”
Sheila has a message for other adoptees who may be looking for birth relatives.
“Don’t give up. Keep trying. Don’t give up hope.”
And then, on August 6th, two days after WJBF aired Audrey’s story, the phone call that changed everything:
“Audrey said, ‘Well sit down,’ and I said ok and she told me and I couldn’t believe it! I was happy! I was crying… I was so overwhelmed, it was so hard to believe.”
Joey had been adopted twice, eventually ending up with a family in Alpharetta, Georgia. His last name was changed to Welch.
“Got a lot of whippings cause I did act up when I was younger. I guess cause of all the stuff I went through over the years, but I am who I am today because of that family.”
And -today- his birth family, the three Sidler children, will be together again for the first time in 50 years.
Hugs, tears, and more hugs… Joey and Sheila meet each other for the first time.
Joey and his wife have 2 daughters and 11 grandchildren… and he looks forward to an even bigger family, now that Audrey and Sheila are back in his life.
Audrey got her wish to celebrate Joey’s 57th birthday with him!
And as for that void, the childhood these siblings didn’t share, Joey learned to let go of the anger.
“I don’t know the reason why they did it, I can’t hold a grudge against them for something I don’t know that they did.”
And he no longer questions decisions made on his behalf.
“But looking at the whole picture now, and the age I am now, maybe it was for the best for me and Audrey.God chose to do what He did and he did it for a reason.”
Don’t you know Audrey, Joey and Sheila are excited to celebrate the holidays together?
View Part 4 of “Finding Birth Families” below:
We hope this special makes you think about those you love: if they’re with you, hug them a little closer.
If you are looking for family, the National Adoption Clearinghouse offers information on adoption and could be helpful if you decide to search for your birth parents.
Mary Louise Moseley strongly recommends the International Adoption Registry, which is free.
Adoption Registry Connect helps both adoptees and birth parents.
In Georgia, contact the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry:
Families First/Office of Adoptions
2 Peachtree Street, N.W.
Suite # 323
Atlanta, GA 30303-3142
In South Carolina, contact the Department of Social Services:
Adoption Reunion Registry
PO Box 1520
Columbia, SC 29202-1520