For decades, Sylvia Kewer’s family thought she was dead.
Kewer, who was adopted as a toddler, grew up in Emporia, Virginia, believing she was an only child. All of that changed in August when she learned she has four half-siblings.
“[Kewer] was saying her whole life she didn’t know what she was. She kept saying, ‘What am I?’ ” Kewer’s daughter, Natalie Graves Tucker, tells PEOPLE.
“Here she is thinking she’s alone all these years and doesn’t know her story … She’s always been a loner and here she has four siblings with children and grandchildren!”
On Nov. 11, Kewer met her half-siblings (and dozens of other family members) at a sweet reunion in Abingdon. Tucker rented a home for the family where they had a cookout and shared old photographs.
“It was a culmination of pictures and conversations and emails that we’ve had with the family over the past few months. It was exciting,” Tucker says. “They just opened their arms with love and so it couldn’t have happened any better. I couldn’t have planned it any better.”
Kewer spent a day and half with her newfound siblings: Billy Ray, 63, Nancy Goode-O’Donnell, 69, Ralph Duff, 70, and Curtis Duff, 72.
Tucker says the reunion left her mother feeling loved, she recalls Kewer saying: “I feel whole, reborn, refreshed and stronger than ever.”
A Family Journey
The siblings’ reunion was months in the making, and it all began with a DNA test on Ancestry.com. Tucker and Kewer submitted tests and soon learned that their DNA matched that of several other people — including Ray’s son.
“When I told her that her brother wanted to FaceTime her, she was just like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ ” Tucker tells PEOPLE. “It’s just so amazing for her. She’s like there’s no longer a question mark. ‘I know who I am and I know what I am.’ “
Tucker, Ray and Kewer began communicating and, over the next few months, Tucker says she received Facebook messages from cousins, nieces, nephews and more, all eager to attend the cookout Tucker had planned for the family’s reunion.
As the family met and exchanged stories at the rental home from Crooked Cabin Properties, they began to piece together Kewer’s story.
Many of the siblings went their separate ways as children, one was raised by a grandfather, another by their father, and others were adopted. Kewer’s four half-siblings had long known about each other, and reunited at their mother’s funeral in the ’80s.
However, Kewer, born Dorothy Mae Goode, was the mystery.
“Billy found [his siblings] and everybody kept saying, ‘I guess Dorothy was dead,” Tucker tells PEOPLE. “My mom only remembers an orphanage and she remembers my grandparents coming to get her.”
A Fresh Start
Now that Kewer has found her family, she never plans to let them go. Tucker says the siblings exchanged phone numbers, noting that Kewer talks to her half-sister Nancy almost every day.
“There is talk about having another get together next year in the spring or the summer,” Tucker tells PEOPLE. “Everybody wants to get together next year.”
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She adds of her mother: “Now that she has everybody’s information, she definitely plans to connect with everybody.”
With the reunion, Tucker says a special bond was formed between Kewer and Nancy.
“Her and her sister just stuck together like glue when they were there,” Tucker tells PEOPLE.