Siblings Reunite 80 Years After Depression-Era Adoption

PHOTO After 80 years of separation, the surviving five children born to George and Dixie Lee Chrisman were reunited last weekend after an Internet posting by Millers son reached the niece of one of her biological sisters.

The last time the Chrisman siblings saw their baby sister, the family was reeling from the death of their mother, and their father was struggling in the throes of the Great Depression.

Put up for adoption to relieve the pressure on her family, Barbara Miller spent decades searching for her biological relatives. She was unaware that she had eight brothers and sisters looking for her at the same time.

After 80 years of separation, Barbara was reunited last weekend with her four survivings siblings.

"It was fabulous, just like we never parted," Barbara, now 82, said of meeting her three sisters and one brother. "We just talked and talked."

"I got some one-on-one time with each one of them," she said.

It was a meeting Barbara never expected. It wasn't until about six weeks ago that she knew she had brothers and sisters. Even after learning their names from a 1930 census report dug up by relative, "I did not expect to find anyone still alive."

Instead, she hit the jackpot. The timing of the siblings reunion coincided with a family party to celebrate the 90th birthday of Exie Davis, the oldest surviving sibling. She also met Evelyn Cox, 87, and twin brother and sister Robert Darmon and Mary Long, both 85.

"We were just on cloud nine," Robert told ABCNews.com. Barbara, he said, shared "quite a lot of resemblance from my sister and another sister. We all have the same nose!"

The five siblings are the youngest of 12 children born to George and Dixie Lee Chrisman. Three of the children died in infancy.

By the late 1920s, the Kansas City family had fallen on hard times. Dixie Lee died at age 42 from liver troubles in 1928. Barbara said she has since seen a family photo of the entire family taken just before their biological mother died. One of the siblings, she said, remembered how Dixie Lee was so ill she had to be carried on a chair to pose for the picture.

Separated by Adoption, Siblings Wait 80 Years for Reunion

By 1930, George Chrisman was struggling to provide for his family. A mail carrier noticed the father trying to raise nine children on his own and helped George get his youngest three into a home for children.

Robert and Mary were adopted together by the mail carrier and his wife who helped put them into foster care. Their names were changed from Glenn and Gladys. Barbara, then a toddler, was adopted by a separate couple, and her name changed from Lillian. She was raised as an only child in what she called a "difficult" home.

By the time World War II rolled around, the older Chrisman children had begun looking for their lost silbings.

Mary was contacted by Maurice Chrisman, their older brother. Maurice relayed information to Mary about her biological siblings before he left to serve with the Air Force in Japan, where he was killed three weeks before the war ended.

Even after Maurice Chrisman helped reconnect them with the rest of their brothers and sisters, Robert said they communicated only sporadically through the decades, meeting typically only to attend the funerals of the older children, most of whom died decades ago. His and Mary's parents, he said, discouraged contact with their biological families.

Just one state away in Oklahoma, Barbara was trying desperately to find clues about her birth family.

Her efforts, she said, were hampered by inaccurate information. She knew her original name was Lillian Chrisman, but had the wrong date of birth and was told her mother had been killed in a car accident.

She searched for every record of a Kansas City woman who died in a car accident in 1928 to no avail. Her brother-in-law found her adoption papers in the Kansas City Hall in the 1960s, but was rebuffed when she tried to get the records unsealed.

"They would not give me any information," she said.

Little did she know that her biological siblings were also trying their hardest to find out what happened to their baby sister.

Barbara said that about 10 years ago, Exie-- then around 80 years old -- went to the home for children where the three youngest Chrisman children had been taken looking for information. Still in operation, the home would not even let her in without a court order.

Exie was also interviewed for a newspaper story around the same time in hopes readers would have clues about her search. Nothing came in.

Adoption Searches Make Case for Unsealing Records

Then, about six weeks ago, Barbara's family found an old census record that included Lillian Chrisman. She let her son post the information on Ancestry.com. And they waited.

Within weeks, Evelyn's daughter found the posting and called Evelyn and Mary to tell them that their baby sister had been found after 80 years.

"It was just that quick," Barbara said. "It just blew my mind."

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, told ABCNews.com that the family's story was remarkable, but further evidence that outdated laws sealing adoption records are unnecessary and hurtful.

"There was no reason to keep these human beings from knowing each other," he said.

The most common reason adoption records, Pertman said, is to protect the birth mother's privacy.

"For an 80-year-old, isn't that a little bit silly?" he asked.

Calling the siblings reunion a "fabulous story," Pertman said not many separated siblings perservere for eight decades, let alone find each other after all that time.

"This is very, very powerful," he said. "Everybody wants to know where they came from."

Now that the family is whole again, they intend to keep it that way.The five siblings keep in touch over the phone and Barbara said she's already been invted to the Denver area this summer, where Evelyn and Mary live. She's also planning to go along on a family vacation to California with her sisters.

Her only regret is that her husband didn't live to see the reunion. One of seven himself, Brett Miller was part of two sets of twins in his own family.

"I wish he was here now," Barbara said, "so I could say 'Hey I've got twins now too!"

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