Beverly Oakley can still remember the day her baby sister was put up for adoption. She was 8 years old and could not understand why her week-old sister was being taken away.
Oakley never imagined that 67 years later that little sister would be walking up the driveway of her granddaughter’s home in Warwick.
But that is exactly what happened last Sunday, when Oakley and her sister Louise Popich were reunited with their baby sister, Ann Giarrusso.
“I’m so nervous,” said Oakley as Popich and Giarrusso exited their car across the street and made their way up to the house. “They look alike,” added Oakley about her two sisters.
But all of those nerves went away when Oakley finally hugged the sister she never forgot.
It was a unique kind of family reunion as Giarrusso, her husband Don, daughter Meredith and granddaughter Marissa were introduced to their extended family of Oakley’s many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who all gathered at a family home on Apollo Street.
But all eyes were on the three sisters, who could not stop smiling.
“I’m so happy,” said Oakley, who almost seemed at a loss for words over the moment.
So how did this happy reunion come to pass? Thanks to Meredith’s family tree research and a Rhode Island law that releases the birth certificates of adopted children.
Giarrusso explained that her parents told her she was adopted when she was 7 years old but that was the end of the conversation.
“I never asked,” said Giarrusso when asked if she ever wanted to know more. She, just like her two sisters, grew up in Rhode Island and had a great childhood.
Giarrusso has lived in a number of states, but she now resides in Colorado. Last year, her daughters began to do research on a family tree, but Meredith reached a roadblock when it came to her mother.
Giarrusso never told her children she had been adopted.
“The right moment never came,” she said.
It was her daughters who eventually convinced Giarrusso to look into her past for health reasons and they found out about the new law that would allow adopted individuals access to their birth certificates.
So Giarrusso decided to request her birth certificate last July. She sent in her $25 fee and received her birth certificate a short time later.
It was on that certificate that she saw her birth name, Barbara, for the first time.
With a desire to learn more, Giarrusso’s husband Don began to conduct research on Ancestry.com to learn more about his wife’s family. While on the site, he crossed paths with a distant relative by marriage, Mr. Sweet, who provided Don with a great deal of information, including Giarrusso’s mother’s name.
When Giarrusso learned her mother had died, she requested the obituary and death certificate.
“Louise’s street address was on [the certificate] because she lived with her,” said Giarrusso. She added that Oakley was mentioned in Sweet’s research, including an address.
So Giarrusso took a chance and wrote letters to the sisters she had never met.
“If they answer, that’s great. If not, not so great, but that’s the way it is,” said Giarrusso.
But they did answer.
“I kind of had to sit down and read it over again about four times,” said Popich, who was only a year old when Giarrusso was adopted. She had no memory of her sister, but Oakley had told her about the baby.
Popich, who lives in Ohio, admits she was skeptical at first, thinking the letter might be part of a scam. But when she called Giarrusso and spoke with her, it made sense.
Oakley says she recognized that name in the letter (Giarrusso included her birth name in the letter) and was so happy to be able to contact her.
Over the past year, the three have been getting to know each other, sending each other photos and speaking on the phone.
Also, in February of this year, Popich and Giarrusso met in person for a DNA test. The two younger sisters have a different father from Oakley, but the DNA test proved they are blood sisters. All three women have the same mother.
Popich and Giarrusso have been doing research to learn more about their shared father, who never married their mother. Eventually they found his name and his picture.
“He looks like us,” said Popich, adding that she was happy to discover who her father was and close that chapter.
She was also happy to discover he was Italian.
“I’ve been going around saying I was Italian for my whole life,” joked Popich.
Giarrusso explained that the two plan to continue to look into their father’s family and find any living relatives.
Oakley was so happy to have her sisters back. Although she grew up in Rhode Island with Popich, the two had not seen each other in almost 14 years. But she was even happier to be reunited with her baby sister.
“That was a sad day,” recalls Oakley about the day Giarrusso was taken away. “Our life wasn’t easy and it was hard to see her go. They had no right to take her.”
For personal reasons, Oakley did not want to talk about the reasons her sister was put up for adoption.
But now the family is reunited and bigger than ever. Combined, the three sisters have 12 children, 31 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
It is that family support that Giarrusso says was so important when researching such a sensitive and emotional subject.
“You have to have a lot of family support through this, which we did,” said Giarrusso.
Popich and Giarrusso were only in town for a few days, but they planned to take a family portrait together and big sister Oakley was treating the sisters to dinner.
“I don’t feel like their sister, I feel like their mother,” said Oakley with a laugh.
Originally, Popich was not going to visit this past weekend. She wanted to give Oakley the time alone with Giarrusso like she had earlier this year.
But Giarrusso, being the good little sister, convinced her otherwise.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we all met together?” said Giarrusso.
“This may be the only time we can all get together,” said Popich.
Although the three plan to keep in touch, they are not sure if they will ever be able to meet up like this again. Giarrusso is the only one with set plans to visit Rhode Island again; she and her husband will return in October for her 50th high school reunion. She plans to visit Oakley while she is in town.