Julene Smith logged onto Facebook one evening last month. Waiting in her inbox was a message from her daughter, Heather Lewis, whom Smith had not seen in nearly 30 years.
The two talked for hours over Facebook's messaging system and the telephone.
"I talked to her all day," Smith said. "I've done nothing but cry since then."
Smith, 50, of Athens, said her daughter and two sons were taken from her by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services when Lewis was about 5. Smith said DHS accused her of burning her children, a charge she denies.
Lewis, 34, of Fort Myers, Fla., said she has become skeptical of the events surrounding the separation from her mother, especially since she has never shown psychological signs of being abused as a child. Lewis said she believes her foster parents mislead her about some facts of her past. She said she cut off communication with them after finding her mother.
"I'm trying to find out what's true," she said. "From what it looks like, it could have been some sort of black-market adoption."
Lewis became curious about her birth mother about a year ago and began searching for her, starting with the Oklahoma Adoption Registry. She plugged her information into the website, but nothing came up.
"I couldn't afford to hire an investigator, so I became my own," she said.
She tried again a year later.
"Now I was looking at not only my full name, but that of my mom and my baby brothers," she said.
Regardless of the past, Lewis and Smith believe the present is more important and are spending every day getting to know each other. They are learning they have a lot in common.
Both like the outdoors, both are focused on family, and they share a fear of heights.
"She looks, acts and sounds just like me," Smith said.
In the years since the separation, Lewis married and had three children: Cole, 12, Isabel, 4, and Trent, 2. She is a stay-at-home mom.
Smith said she is getting to know her grandchildren over the phone, too. She said Cole likes LEGOs and Isabel is obsessed with "My Little Pony."
Smith said she is living off disability checks and suffers from a slew of maladies, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer. She had three strokes and a heart attack.
"My doctors are shocked I've lived this long," she said. "I live for today. I don't know if tomorrow will come."
Lewis' mother's health worries her, but she's glad to have known her before it became too late.
"It's cool to get to know your mom as an adult," she said. "It's a more mature relationship."
Lewis said her father is different from her brothers', but none of them have had much or any contact with them so far.
Smith also reunited with her son, David Mason, on Facebook in 2008. Mason moved to Athens to be near her, and has remained there since. Lewis is also getting to know her brother over the phone.
"He is a cool, level-headed guy," she said. "He can throw his voice, and he did this really great impression of John Wayne the other day."
As of last week, Smith, Mason and Lewis were searching for the third and last sibling, Bobby Joe Yancey. Smith said she may have received a message from him last week, but wonders if it was a scammer that had heard of Smith's search for B.J.
"I want it to be him," Lewis said.
Smith's twin sister, Julee, convinced her to leave Oklahoma 20 years ago and move to Florida.
"I lived in Florida for five years," Julene Smith said. "I couldn't breathe in the saltwater air."
The sisters moved once again to Athens, where they have lived next door to each other since.
"She showed me the flea markets and fresh water where I can swim," Smith said. "I fell in love with Alabama."
Julee recently won a trip to Orlando, Fla., and Julene Smith will use it as an opportunity to meet her daughter in person.
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