ALBANY, N.Y. — Eighty-two years after she was born to a teenage girl and put up for adoption, Betty Morrell finally has met her 96-year-old birth mother, thanks to the dogged persistence of her granddaughter during 20 years of searching.
And as a bonus, she has forged a close friendship with a sister she never knew she had.
"After my adoptive parents died, that's when I started looking," Betty Morrell said Thursday by phone from her home in Spring Hill, Florida. "Being that it was a closed adoption, it's like hitting a brick wall because you can't get any information."
Morrell was born in 1933 in the central New York town of Utica to Lena Pierce, who named her Eva May. Social welfare officials took the baby away because Pierce, then 13, was herself a ward of the state. Eva May was adopted by a family on Long Island and grew up as Betty Morrell, an only child.
"I grew up a very happy child," Morrell said. "I was so content in the family I was adopted by."
She was in her early 30s when she started looking for information about her birth family. She had been told her birth mother had died during childbirth and was shocked when she eventually learned she was still alive.
Morrell's granddaughter, Kimberly Miccio, started helping with the search when she was 12.
"My grandmother had been looking for a long time," said Miccio, 32, who now lives with her husband and three children a few minutes away from Morrell. "She had never tried through the Internet, so we started going through different sites."
It took 20 years, but the breakthrough finally came in September. Miccio got in touch with a distant relative of Morrell's through Ancestry.com, and that person put her in touch with Millie Hawk of Windsor, New York, one of Pierce's daughters.
"Kim and I got on the phone and called her," Morrell said. "I had found my baby sister, who's 65. We just clicked. It was like we had known each other all our lives."
Morrell learned she had four sisters and two brothers, and that her mother was alive and well, living in an assisted living apartment complex in Hallstead, Pennsylvania. That's about 20 miles from where Hawk lives.
"I rushed to my mother's house to tell her," Hawk said. "She just sat down in a chair and cried. She said, 'My Eva May, they found her?' It was just so emotional."
Morrell and Miccio flew to Binghamton, near Hawk's home, last month. Hawk brought their mother to the airport.
"The minute I saw her come through the security door, I just got goosebumps," Hawk said. "Mother reached for her; Betty said. 'Mom.' They hugged and cried."
"There were a few tears, and shaking," Pierce said. "It sure was a joy to finally meet up with her. It's kind of hard when you have a child that you get separated from. I never wanted to give her up."
Since then, Morrell has been talking regularly with Hawk by phone and Facebook, and they're planning a get-together in Florida in the spring. She talks less often to Pierce. "Sometimes I have to remind my mother of who I am," Morrell said. "I say, 'I'm your long-lost daughter Eva May.'"
Morrell offers encouragement to other adoptees who have contacted her via Facebook, telling of their own searches.
"I say absolutely don't give up. There's always something that will link it," she said. "It's a lot of work. It took me 50 years."