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.
Tiana Medley is now a master of finding people. Eight siblings in her mother Evelyn Howell’s family were all sent to orphanages and foster homes, and 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 ran down her cheeks.
Medley is emotional about the story — and her accomplishments. She found her mother’s family after 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, Howell, had never seen a picture of her mom, and during Medley’s search discovered something stunning: Howell is the only one of quintuplets who survived. The four other newborns died.
“Ancestry.com’s DNA kit made me 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 six of seven siblings and is still looking for another. There’s a picture of many family members at Verdejo’s bedside shortly before she died. None of them knew about Howell at the time.
Medley’s tenacity led her to one of the sisters, Yvonne Turpin.
“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 and saw each other for the first time in 46 years. 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?” Howell said. “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.”
Contacted via Facetime, Turpin she said 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.
Asked about the picture, Turpin said, “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 was 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, and a family is reunited.