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LAKEVILLE, Ind. (AP) — The three sisters still have a copy of the black-and-white photo that ran in a 1979 edition of the South Bend Tribune.

They were photographed with their adoptive parents, the whole family lounging on the floor while playing a board game in a cozy fireside nook at their Granger home.

Biological sisters Tammy, Rhonda and Crystal, then ages 4, 5 and 8, and their adoptive parents, Ronald and Marilyn Tohulka, were featured in an article about the joys of adopting older children and sibling groups.

But no one in the photo knew the story would have a sequel nearly four decades later. The new chapter to the family’s story came this summer when, thanks to their curiosity and a lot of help from modern technology, the sisters re-united with the biological brother they never knew existed.

Last month, Tammy Meuzelaar, 46, Rhonda Johnson, 43, and Crystal Moskwinski, 42, traveled to Columbus, Ind., to meet their biological brother, Scott Weddle, for the first time after having discovered him through a DNA-based genealogy search about six months ago. On Sept. 16, they all gathered for a reunion barbecue at Crystal’s home in Lakeville.

“I feel complete,” Rhonda said of getting to know Scott. “I’m totally satisfied.”

Scott, a man of few words compared to his talkative sisters, said reuniting with them has “worked out great.”

“Other than having my kids,” he said, “it’s probably one of my highest moments.”

The story started in Columbus, where all four of the biological siblings were born. Scott, the oldest at 49, was adopted by an aunt and uncle and was raised in the Columbus area, while the sisters spent time in foster care before being placed with their adoptive parents.

Over the years, the sisters wondered about their history and, after they turned 18, made occasional attempts to locate their biological parents. Those tries were never successful.

But earlier this year, Crystal accepted the offer of a friend and genealogy hobbyist to help find relatives. At the time, the sisters wanted to find out about possible hereditary medical concerns.

Just a day or two later, Crystal said, her friend called and said, “are you sitting down?” She then broke the news that the women had a biological brother.

“I started bawling,” Crystal said Sept. 16.

Crystal first contacted Scott via Facebook, but it wasn’t until July that he finally took a phone call from her. Like the sisters, he had wondered if he had biological siblings, but he was skeptical after a series of contacts from people who shared his last name but turned out to be unrelated. When he spoke with Crystal, he quizzed her on what she knew about his parents. She convinced him with what she’d learned, and they agreed to the Aug. 19 meeting at a hotel in Columbus.

Everyone was nervous about awkwardness as the meeting neared, but hugs in the hotel parking lot melted the tension, and the siblings shared an immediate connection, they said.

Though not all reunions between separated biological siblings go as smoothly, they often are important moments for people who were adopted, and these reunions are becoming more common, said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption.

“It’s a very monumental time in their lives, whether it’s birth parents being re-united with their children or siblings who were separated,” he said, “and these kinds of connections are happening more and more with the internet, Facebook and genetic testing.”

Reunions can be sensitive, and research shows about 30 percent of cases end up with at least one person feeling dissatisfied, Johnson said.

But the experience has been positive for Scott Weddle, his biological sisters and their family. The sisters, who also have a young brother, Adam, who was born to their adoptive parents, said they were at once thankful for their adoptive family and thrilled to find a biological brother.

As the family relaxed in lawn chairs Saturday, with the smell of grilling hamburgers floating through the air, they encouraged others to carry out their own searches and see what — or who — they find.

“There’s always that thought at the back of your head that someone else is out there,” Tammy said. “Don’t give up. Keep searching.”


Source: Dubois County Herald


Information from: South Bend Tribune,