Get the latest from TODAY
Betty Morrell has spent the past eight decades or so wondering where she came from, and in September, she finally got the answers she was looking for.
Morrell was born Feb. 11, 1933, and given the name Eva May. Her mother, Lena Pierce — only 14 years old at the time — was forced to give up her 6-month-old baby because of her status as a ward of the state.
Eva May was then adopted by a Long Island, New York, family, who changed her name to Betty Morrell. Even though she had cousins who were close to her in age, she longed for closer bonds.
"I've always wanted siblings so badly that I created an imaginary brother and sister, who did everything with me," Morrell, 82, told TODAY.com.
After Morrell's adoptive mother died when she was 21 years old, she started caring for her adoptive father, who had Parkinson's disease. One day while making his bed, she stumbled upon a box of adoption papers, but didn't think too much about it because she was told her mom had died at childbirth and her father passed away a couple years later.
It wasn't until after her adoptive father died in 1960 that her aunt revealed that her name used to be Eva May and that she was born at a Utica, New York, hospital. Morrell went back to find the box, but all the papers had disappeared.
This got her started on a 50-year journey to search for her missing kin. She initially set off on a mission to find her siblings and the family who was originally supposed to adopt her, but who eventually got turned down.
"Being a mother myself, I would wonder what happened to this child," Morrell said. "I just wanted to tell them that I had two children and was happily married."
In 1966, she called every Utica hospital until she found the right one. She also tried every adoption agency in New York, but didn't have much luck obtaining information since hers was a closed, or confidential, adoption.
She finally got a hold of an agent, who said she had a personal interest in Morrell since she was her first case ever.
"When she told me my mom was still alive, I nearly fell out of my chair," Morrell said. "She tried to help as much as she could, but had a legal obligation since it was a closed adoption."
Morrell didn't give up. Now that she knew her mom was out there, she was determined to keep trying until she found her. And while she continued to make phone calls to find more information, life carried on. Morrell moved to Florida and raised a family.
It wasn't until 1995 that she took the first big step that would ultimately lead to a breakthrough — with the help of her granddaughter, Kimberly Miccio, who was 12 at the time. Miccio would spend her summers with Morrell, and decided to sign her grandma up for ancestry.com.
"She was always talking about how she was searching for answers, so I figured I'd help her out," Miccio, now 32, told TODAY.com. "She wasn't very Internet savvy, so I thought that would be a good place to start."
It's a good thing she did because 20 years later, in September 2015, Morrell got a message from the website, alerting her that a family member was trying to get in touch.
It was Morrell's second cousin, Brad Newman, who told her that she has four sisters and two brothers. He connected her to one of her sisters, Millie Hawk.
"There was an instant connection as soon as I started talking to Millie on the phone. It was like we've known each other our whole lives," Morrell said.
Hawk then handed the phone to Lena Pierce, who is now 96 years old and has also spent many years looking for Morrell. During the call, Pierce was very emotional, repeating, "Oh my baby Eva May."
On Jan. 15, Morrell flew to New York, where Pierce, Hawk and many of her other family members live. As soon as she landed at the Greater Binghamton Airport, her family embraced her with open arms. They've talked every day since and are already planning another reunion.
"No more waking up in the morning longing for answers," Morrell said. "I finally feel complete."