Brothers' Amazing Reunion After Nearly 60 Years

·Writer
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Photo: KFSN-TV Fresno 

Adopted at age four from an orphanage in Missouri, Steven Farley, 59, didn’t know that he had siblings until he dug up his birth certificate to apply for a driver’s license at age 17. Upon discovering he had a brother, he says, “I was walking on cloud nine.” Ever since that day, he’s been searching for his family –until last month, when Farley hit pay dirt and found his big brother, Michael Riederer, 65, in Fresno, California.

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“It took me 20 years of looking and this is it,” Farley told ABC 30 on Wednesday of meeting his brother for the first time at an airport in San Francisco one week ago. “This is the payoff.” Riederer – who was placed in the orphanage with Farley and three other siblings because, they were told their parents were alcoholics – marvels, “All this time I thought he was dead.”

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Childhood photo of the family. Photo: KFSN-TV Fresno

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The brothers had lived in different wings of the orphanage and Reiderer says staff told him that his then-infant brother had died of rickets. Three different adoptive families ultimately raised the five siblings. To meet Farley now, “means a lot,” says Reiderer, adding, “Why couldn’t it have happened 40 years ago?”

Genealogist Megan Smolenyak, author of Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing, and Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History tells Yahoo Parenting that it’s possible that family records weren’t accessible until now.

“The good news is, reunions like this are happening more often” as records have become more available in recent years, thanks to improved indexing and digitizing that eliminates the need to slog through documents and increases the odds of “stumbling into something,” she says. DNA databases have also helped. “They’ve been around for about 15 years now but they’re just becoming really juicy because more people are joining them,” says Smolenyak.

Ironically, a long passage of time can actually aid people in their search for relatives. “When you’re doing family history research you become the detective,” Jennifer Utley, a family historian at Ancestry.com, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But unlike a normal detective, the search can actually get easier with time because resources are more extensive than ever before and growing all the time. Time works against you only if you don’t start asking questions.”

Some states have extreme privacy laws, adds Smolenyak, so people may not even be allowed access to personal records until a significant period of time has passed. “Searches can take a long time especially if you’re following a paper trail,” she says. “But it is getting easier.”

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Photo: KFSN-TV Fresno

Farley’s son finally enlisted genealogy researchers to make headway on his dad’s search. They found Riederer and sent him a letter, which was when the big brother learned that Farley was alive and that he wanted to come visit.

Their face-to-face was initially nerve-wracking. “I never had a brother before so I didn’t know how a brother is supposed to act,” says Farley. They soon bonded, though, over many similarities including their military service, love of fishing and camping, and overcoming alcoholism and other issues while growing up labeled as “problem children” by psychiatrists. Farley also learned from Riederer that their three other siblings had sadly passed away.

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Photo: KFSN-TV Fresno

However, Farley says his lifetime search was worth it. “Anyone out there in the same situation,” he says. “Don’t give up hope, because I about did.” That message is a wise one, says Smolenyak. “There’s almost always a way to find what you’re looking for. Keep trying everything you can think of and eventually you’ll be surprised how answers just fall into your lap sooner or later. There are new resources coming available all the time — and you don’t know who’s looking for you. You just might be the one who’s found.”

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Photo: KFSN-TV Fresno

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