Sisters reunite after nearly 60 years apart
by Marie Nesmith
Oct 26, 2010 | 2358 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Barbara Smith holds an old photograph of herself with her father, brothers and sisters. Missing from the image is her sister, Phyllis Crandall, who she recently reconnected with after being separated for almost 60 years. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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At the age of 72, Barbara Smith is excited to be forming a new relationship with her long-lost younger sister. Overjoyed at the opportunity, the resident of White reunited with Phyllis Crandall on Oct. 4, after being separated from her for about 60 years.

"Words cannot explain it," Smith said. "I had searched for her and searched for her and everything would turn into a dead end. I think I first started searching for her when I was about 20 years old. She got on my mind.

"My husband at that time was in the service and everywhere I would go -- the people who were supposed to adopt her but didn't [legally], their last name was Harris -- I would call all the [Harris entries] in the phone book. Sometimes that took half the day, asking [people] if they had adopted a daughter named Phyllis and that this was her sister and [I] wanted to reunite with her if she wanted to. Everything turned up cold."

The sisters were parted when Smith was 10 years old after a family acquaintance volunteered to raise Crandall when she was about 4 weeks old. At the time, Smith's father was being treated for tuberculosis at a Rome hospital and her mother was working two jobs, struggling to provide for five children.

Now living in Coldwater, Mich., with her husband, Crandall first thought about trying to connect with her biological family when she reached adulthood but resources were limited. With the emergence of the Internet, her search was enhanced and she gained valuable information from the website www.WebRoots.org in April.

Crandall, 61, already had received a copy of her birth certificate in 2003 and was surprised to learn the Harris couple never officially adopted her and there was a child born with the last name "Rainey" on her birthdate. A search on www.WebRoots.org for her father revealed he had passed on, but it provided the phone number for her brother, whose name is Everett Cecil Rainey Jr.

"Curiosity got the best of me so I called him and got an answering machine and I basically told him who I was and who I was looking for," Crandall said. "And about two, three hours later the phone rings and I have caller ID and it said, 'Cecil Rainey.' And I said, 'Hello' and this guy goes, 'Phyllis' and I go, 'Yes,' and he goes, 'This is your brother Cecil.' And I just lost it. I just absolutely lost it.

"When you go through life knowing, number one, that you never belonged where you were, and then when you find out that there's people out there -- because when I got my birth certificate it said there were five siblings -- [it is amazing]. There were five of them older than me and then I had to wonder, were they still alive? And I was always [detached] from the people that raised me. It was not a good life."

As Smith learned about their conversation, she was shocked and overwhelmed that her sister had been the one to re-establish a connection.

"I believe there is a God and I believe that he reunited us," Smith said. "When my brother called me and told me, he was crying so hard I thought something bad had happened because we had just lost our brother. I said, 'What's wrong? What's happened? Is it bad?' He said, 'No.' He was crying and he said, 'It's good. It's ... Phyllis.' I said, 'You found her?' and he said, 'She found us.' ... I went up and down the hall thanking God and praising him that I was going to be able to spend my remaining years with her."

After an opportunity to meet Crandall at a family reunion fell through, Smith was undeterred and decided to embark on a road trip to Michigan with her sister-in-law.

"I stood outside and watched for her," Crandall said. "And as I saw the truck coming in, for the first time in my life I was able to cry about it. Then she got out of the truck and I saw her [and] my first thought was there's somebody that looks like me.

"And we hugged and talked and then when we came in we started going over [items] she brought me," she said, referring to photographs, documents and a family tree dating back to 1777. "My first thought was anger toward the woman that raised me because she could have told me and I could have been with these people and then there was this calm that came over me and I felt totally complete because I knew that all this was in God's plan. ... The only pain I feel is [regarding] our age and all the years that we've lost."

For Smith, two of the most striking parts of their reunion was looking into her sister's eyes and seeing the eyes of her late mother, and then noticing a resemblance to Crandall's appearance at 18 months, which was the last time she saw her. Along with physical and personality traits, the sisters said they share many similarities, leading Smith to comment, "If there wasn't 10 years difference, I'd think we were identical twins."

Even though her childhood was not a positive experience, Crandall is optimistic about her future. Already planning to visit her sister from November to April, Crandall and her husband also are considering relocating to Georgia to make up for lost time.

"Everything's done as according to how God wanted it," Crandall said. "I've been blessed. Everything that I went through in my life was for a reason because now I have Barb. [Now] I'm a totally different person."