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It took almost 70 years, but Thomas Cain finally has a picture of his mom.
Orphaned as a teen, he was left without any images of his parents until a dogged search by his granddaughter finally uncovered an antique photo when he turned 82.
Andrea Ferrell, 29, captured her grandfather’s beautiful reaction to the surprise gift in a video that was recorded at a family gathering in Thomasville, North Carolina, in 2013, and is just now getting attention online.
“Up until that point, I’ve never seen (him cry) just because he’s always the strong person,” Ferrell told TODAY Parents about the moment the man she calls “my Pawpaw Cain” saw the photo.
"That's your mama," Andrea’s mom, who is Cain’s oldest daughter, is heard saying as he gives her a startled look, stares at the photo and then sits back and covers his face with his hand.
“I could not have asked for a better reaction. I love this man so much!” Ferrell added on her Facebook page.
Cain, who was born in Bladenboro, North Carolina, in 1931, lost both of his parents before he was 13. His father Henry Cathey Cain passed away when he was 9 and his mother Ora Mae Blackmon died of complications from pneumonia in 1943.
“Everyone says that my grandpa is the greatest guy in the world. He loves family,” Ferrell said. “I’ve always known that he’s wanted (a photo of his parents) so I just kind of started looking.”
In 2011, she began contacting distant relatives through Ancestry.com and found lots of photos of her family— most everyone except for her great-grandmother and great-grandfather.
Ferrell also reached out to the newspaper in her grandfather’s hometown, The Bladen Journal, which published a story about her search in the fall of 2011. That prompted a couple of possible leads, but the trail soon went cold again.
“I didn’t give up, but I didn’t pursue it as hard after a while,” Ferrell recalled.
Then, out of the blue, a woman who had read about Ferrell’s quest contacted her in 2013 and said she had a photo of her great-grandmother in her possession, passed down by a distant relative who had moved to Florida.
Finally holding the picture in her hands and looking at Ora Mae’s face, Ferrell was struck by the family resemblance.
“I immediately knew who it was,” she said. “(My grandfather) looks exactly like her; I can see the facial features of him and my mom—his daughter. I just was flabbergasted. I could not wait to give this to him.”
The chance came right after her grandfather’s birthday on June 6, 2013, and just before Father’s Day. She videotaped his reaction as he carefully peeled away the green wrapping paper.
Cain, who is now almost 84, keeps the photo in a prominent place at his home: It sits on a table that everyone must pass by as they walk from the dining room to the other part of the house.
But Ferrell’s search isn’t done quite yet. She’s now seeking a photo of her great-grandfather, Henry Cathey Cain, born in 1904 in Bladenboro, North Carolina. It would make Pawpaw Cain so happy.