Jack Terrell was 12 years old when he found out he was adopted after he asked his mother to take his new baby brother back to where he came from. “You take things back to Sears,” he told her, “so why can’t you return him?”
Three years after that day, when his mother told him that he’d been adopted as a newborn from an unknown single mother, Terrell, of Hockley, Texas, began a quiet quest to uncover his past.
Now, at age 85, he finally has some answers – two of them, in fact, in the form of two newly-found sisters.
“I’m going to make them as happy as I can now for as long as I live,” Terrell tells PEOPLE. “They’ve filled a void in my life that’s very emotional, and I’m never going to let them go, I’ll tell you that.”
Luck and good timing helped the former savings and loan advisor solve his childhood mystery.
After years of searching, he finally reunited with Ruby Winters, 82, and Jo Hatcher, 80 (a third sister, Ann Castillo, is deceased), after Winters daughter, Patricia Bond, received Terrell s newly-submitted DNA information while doing some genealogy work of her own online.
Coincidentally, Bond, 61, had been given the task of searching for Terrell by his mother and her grandmother, Fannie Mae Woodard, in 1974, 22 years before she died in 1996. But Bond had given up the quest when she kept coming up empty-handed.
Then last month, the Salt Lake City retired airlines worker received an email from Family Tree DNA, informing her that she had a new family match.
After seeing Jack Terrell’s name, “I immediately got the chills,” Bond tells PEOPLE, “and I wondered, ‘Did I just find my long-lost uncle?’ ”
Terrell, who had submitted his DNA to the company on a whim in late March, burst into tears when he received a message from Bond, telling him that she believed she was his niece.
“Everything I’d done my whole life had come to a dead end,” he tells PEOPLE, his voice breaking. “I’d pretty much satisfied myself that I wasn’t going to find anything. It was such a shock to finally have an answer in front of me that I could barely speak. Today I can still hardly believe it.”
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Terrell’s mother, who wasn’t married when she became pregnant, put her newborn son up for adoption after he was born at a home for unwed mothers in Pilot Point, Texas.
Decades after marrying and raising three daughters, Fannie Mae Woodard told Bond about the adoption and pleaded for her granddaughter to “find my baby boy.”
“She’d never spoken to anyone in the family about it before, but my mom recalls her opening a box of baby clothes, taking everything out and crying,” Bond tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t have a name, but I tried everything I could think of through genealogy to find him and kept hitting a brick wall. It was an impossible task, so finally, I quit looking. But when Uncle Jack put in his DNA, that’s all it took.”
One of the first things Terrell wanted to know when he called Bond was, “What color were my mama’s eyes? I have always wanted to look into her eyes.”
“I answered, ‘Blue – very blue,” says Bond, “and then he told me that he had blue eyes. When he started to cry, I told him that his mother loved him and always wanted to know about him and his life.”
A reunion was arranged in Fort Worth for Terrell and his two sisters, who both suffer from memory loss but were excited to learn that they had a brother.
“My mom now calls him every morning,” says Bond, “and there is always lots of laughter, tears and emotion. She’s thrilled to have a big brother.”
After a joyful meeting at Ruby’s house, Terrell went with his sisters and Bond to the cemetery to visit his mother’s grave, then drove to the homestead where Fannie lived for more than 70 years.
“To think that all these years, she was so close – just 70 miles upstream,” Terrell tells PEOPLE. “I had a happy childhood and I have no regrets. But I’d always carried around this mystery, and now it’s finally solved. I’m now finally a part of my mother’s loving family.”