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Mother, Daughter Reunited

After 61 years, Shirley Harding of Timbo is getting to know the daughter she never met.

A ward of the state, Shirley was only 13 years old in 1957 when she gave birth, having been removed from the home of her mother and step-father. She was anesthetized and unconscious for the delivery, so she never got to see the baby, but was told it was a girl who went straight to adoptive parents.

At age 14, Shirley was adopted by an aunt and uncle who lived in Oklahoma and she concentrated on getting back to a normal life with activities such as cheerleading. One of her best days is when she was baptized in 1958.

Shirley was married before she graduated high school and had two sons: Jerry Ellison of Mountain View, and Donnie Ellison of Texas. Between the boys she had a girl, Frances Jean, who died as an infant. Shirley says she had never searched for her first daughter prior to coming to Arkansas, “But I did wonder if the reason my daughter didn’t get to live is because I gave my other away.”

Shirley’s search began after she gained access to the internet, but her efforts were limited. She and her husband Curtis would watch the program “Long Lost Family” and talk about “what would happen if --”.

Meanwhile, Betty Adkins of Vail, Ariz., had been searching actively for more than 20 years, hoping to find the mother she never knew. Her adoptive parents had passed away and her husband continued to encourage her to search. In 2007, she stopped in Oklahoma while on a trip and got her adoption papers, but there was limited information. She knew that “baby girl Williams” weighed 7 lbs and one-half ounce.

This year, for her 61st birthday in March, Betty’s husband gifted her a 23andMe DNA testing kit.

“We sent it in knowing it was a shot in the dark,” Betty said. “They told us it could be six to eight months for results.”

To her surprise, she received results in five weeks listing a possible first cousin. That person turned out to be Shirley’s granddaughter, Colleen, who had received a 23andMe DNA testing kit last Christmas and sent in a sample. After some initial confusion via e-mail with Colleen not recognizing the name Shirley Williams as being her grandmother, Betty was thrilled to confirm that she had found a niece rather than a cousin, and that her mother had been searching for her, too.

Betty was provided Shirley’s number and reached out first by text, asking when was a good time to call. Shirley said her response was a quick “NOW.” Their first phone conversation lasted about three hours. Plans to meet in person took time to arrange, but Betty was able to use vacation time and make the trip to Arkansas at the end of August. Interviewed the day prior to Betty’s arrival, Shirley said they had talked on the phone several times and a connection was evident.

“It seemed like I knew her,” Shirley said. “I think she’s a lot like me.”

It turned out, they not only resemble each other physically, but they share many of the same interests, including camping, fishing, and following Nascar racing. They both list iced tea, onions and pecan pie among favorite foods.

As anticipated, they also share health issues, but to a greater extent than they expected. They have undergone three of the same surgeries. “Looking in her eyes is like yourself looking back at you,” Shirley commented.

See the complete story in the Sept. 5, 2018 issue.

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