Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Lawrenceville resident Dorothy Wilkerson was recently reacquainted with six brothers and sisters, thanks to a niece's work on ancestry.com. Wilkerson was adopted along with one sister, Valerie Stewart (both pictured in frame) as a kid. She has met one of the "new" sibblings in Jacksonville and is planning reunion with the others over Thanksgiving.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Six new siblings, 13 nieces and nephews and 15 grandnieces and nephews, with one more on the way -- in the span of a few months, the size of Dorothy Wilkerson's family has more than tripled.
Now a 54-year-old Lawrenceville resident, Wilkerson grew up in Florida with sister Valerie Stewart. In their 20s, they found out they were in fact genetic sisters but had been given up for adoption by their birth parents. Wilkerson dabbled in a search during the '80s, but the results were unfruitful. For the better part of 30 years, that's where it stopped.
"I put it aside, thinking maybe one day I would pursue it again," Wilkerson said last week.
She wouldn't have to. A few months ago, Stewart's daughter began poking around on Ancestry.com, mostly in an attempt to fill out her father's side of the family tree. She asked Wilkerson a few questions anyway, and her aunt dusted off what little information she had from decades before.
As Stewart put it, her daughter "struck gold."
The news was this: Wilkerson and Stewart had six other siblings out there, two which had been raised by their parents and four more that had also been adopted out. Contact had been made with Renee Brown, their oldest sister who had been raised by their biological parents. Brown, in turn, had previously tracked down all of their other siblings.
Wilkerson initially got word in an email.
"I was so shocked I started crying at the computer," she said. "I said, 'I don't believe it, I don't believe it.'"
Stewart, who lives near her daughter in Jacksonville, Fla., found out in person.
"When she told me I just started staring into space," she said. "She thought at first I was upset, but I just said, 'No, you finally left me speechless.' I didn't know what to say."
Over Labor Day weekend, Wilkerson made the trip down to Stewart's home. Brown, their newfound sister, made the pilgrimage too -- ironically, she lives in DeLand, Fla., just a short drive from Stewart. It was the first of what Wilkerson hopes will be many meetings.
"Oh my goodness, it was tears everywhere," Wilkerson said. "I was so so happy. We cried, we cried, we cried. (Brown) basically said it's OK now, it's OK. We're all here now."
Brown brought an album of photos of their birth mother and other relatives Wilkerson and Stewart never got a chance to know, and plenty of information about the brothers and sisters they are still yet to meet. At one point, Stewart's husband gave a heartfelt speech.
"I tried to keep it together, I did," Stewart said. "But I broke down. Once he started speaking, that's when I lost it. It hit home that it was real."
After all these years, one big question still looms: While the first two children (including Brown) were kept by their biological parents, why were so many more given up for adoption? It's a question that Wilkerson said will likely remain in the dark, as anyone in the family old enough to know has passed away.
At this point, it's a question perhaps best left unanswered.
"While we do have some questions, that won't hinder us from doing what we feel to be right," Wilkerson said, "and that's to treat each other as siblings, with love."
The "new" siblings have all been in contact and are tentatively planning a Thanksgiving get-together, though Wilkerson said economics may or may not allow that to come to fruition. Stewart and Brown live in Florida, and most of their other siblings are still in New Jersey, where all eight were born.
Either way, she's "just happy to be alive, to experience this wonderful opportunity to get to know my siblings."
"I guess you could probably say God was involved the whole time," she said.