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‘Our circle is finally connected’: Mother and daughter reunite after more than 62 years

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 8:15 PM EDT
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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - In 1958, Deborah Lee was born as the second child of Vivian Leslie. Weeks later, Vivian’s mother forced her to make a decision she never wanted to make.

“I loved her so much. I had her for three weeks,” Vivian recalled. “My mother made me give one away, because back then your parents had to tell you what to do and what not to do.”

She said her mother not only made her give Deborah up but did so without any legal papers- with rumors soon surfacing that she was sold to another person instead of being placed in the system.

”Mom always told us the story, but nobody knew anything else. There was no paper trail because she wasn’t just adopted out,” said Carol Bryant, one of Vivian’s eight children. “She was more or less sold.”

But the questions did not stop the family from searching for their loved one. Vivian would make it a habit to look for her often over the years and the family kept the discussion alive for more than six decades.

“We’d see somebody and think, ‘Is that my sister? She could look like us.’ And it was just always like... we know she’s out there; we want to find her,” Bryant said.

She said there were many avenues the family tried to go down to find Deborah, but the lack of a paper trail made it seemingly impossible to find her.

“We looked for her every year,” Vivian said. “Every time I went to Maryland where they lived. We’d go to places that we used to live and people we used to know, but they didn’t know where they were.”

Vivian said she continued to pray and wait, hoping that one day they would find Debbie. And, thanks to an Ancestry DNA test, that day came in 2019.

“I wanted to know who my parents were. I wanted to know my history and everything,” Deborah recalled. “And every time they asked me, I didn’t.”

Deborah had been searching for the truth about her family for decades.

“I was always looking too. Always. Because I didn’t know what happened and I thought no one wanted me,” said Deborah. “And it was the total opposite.”

After years of “found family,” she knew her true story was out there. So, when she was given a test by her daughter and eventually decided to give it a shot.

“She found us,” said Vivian. “I prayed to the Lord all the time and He answered it.”

And, though Deborah has spent her nearly 63 years keeping a relatively small circle, she is now taking her rightful place in a much larger group.

“Our circle is finally connected. There’s always been a missing piece of our story and now we’re finally connected together,” said Bryant.

With pandemic restrictions lifted in most places, the family felt it safe to finally make the trip. They hosted a small gathering at the Holiday Inn Express in Pikeville Friday, with the management allowing Deborah and Vivian to reunite. Deborah also met a few of her siblings and brought some of her own children and grandchildren to join in.

“You can’t really put it into words. It’s emotional. Just to see a part of her that’s been missing, that she’s been looking for, to finally have it fulfilled? It’s amazing,” said Deborah’s daughter Danielle Simon.

Deborah said it was “a dream come true” to hug her mother after more than 60 years of waiting and her mother agreed.

“That’s all I always wanted to do is hug my baby again and hold her,” Vivian said.

Now the family continues in this new chapter, putting most of the lingering questions to bed and watching their expanded circle take root.

The family said it is a miracle and they encourage anyone searching to keep the faith.

“Don’t give up. There’s answers and there’s ways of finding them. Just don’t give up because God is good,” said Bryant.

Her mother echoed those sentiments.

“Anybody out there that’s got a child, don’t give up. Keep looking,” she said.

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