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Published Thursday July 9th, 2009 at 6:42pm

Original Article by Pam Beer

It took her 83 years, but Bernice Johnston finally found her baby brother.
The story's beginning reads almost like a John Steinbeck novel. The year was 1925 and the farmer's land was in a bad way. With crops devastated by boll weevils, the farmer had little choice but to leave Calhoun with his wife and six children to try to find work in Atlanta. In Atlanta his wife, Elizabeth Dyer Robbins, died two months after giving birth to their seventh child. They had named him Talmadge Robbins. The farmer decided he couldn't take care of the baby, so he placed him in an orphanage. Three of baby Talmadge's sisters were given over to the care of neighbors to raise.

But they always wondered what happened to "baby brother."

* * * * *

Fast forward to the year 1961.

An article appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution detailing the search the siblings had gone through to find Talmadge. The article, titled "'Lost' Son Search Halted by Death," talked about the death of the oldest Robbins sibling, Arnold, to cancer. With Arnold's imminent passing the siblings had begun a search for the baby brother they had not seen in 36 years. In the article Bernice Johnston was quoted as saying, "We have never tried to locate him before. You want to, but everybody tells you it's not the thing to do."

According to the article, the family had hoped that when Talmadge entered the military and needed to produce a birth certificate he would try to locate them. The family had no clue as to his whereabouts, if he was still living, or what name he was going by. They had hoped to locate him while their brother Arnold was still alive, but were unsuccessful.

The article ended with a family member saying that although Arnold had passed away, the search would continue.

Bernice said she had contacted the orphanage as a child because the neighbors who were watching over her wanted to adopt her baby brother. She contacted the superintendent of the orphanage several years later but couldn't get copies of the records because they'd been lost in a fire. She followed up with occasional newspaper ads and even contacted television shows and agencies that specialized in finding lost relatives, but with no luck.

* * * * *

Fast forward to the year 2009.

"I always knew I was adopted," said John Williamson, 83, who shares a comfortable Carrington Woods home with his wife of 60 years, Gene. "I was adopted when I was five years old."

When he was about 12 years old his adoptive parents gave him a copy of his birth certificate. For the first time John realized he had brothers and sisters, but he never tried to make contact with any of his birth family until after the death of his adoptive parents.

John grew up in Albany, Ga., graduated from North Georgia College, served three years with the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific during World War II, and finished his education at Georgia Tech. He and Gene married and had four children.

Ultimately he gave what little information he had about his birth family to his daughters Ava Searce and LeAnn MacCunach, who decided to see what they could do about finding their father's family. A free trial to the website led to a mention of the Robbins family name, which in turn led them to Wesley Robbins of Calhoun, one of John's brothers. John said that "within the hour" the remaining two siblings, Bernice Johnston of Bartow, Fla. and Doris McCleskey of Clemson, SC, their children and grandchildren, knew that "baby brother" had been found.

Those first conversations with his brother and sisters touched John's heart.

"All they could do is cry because 'baby brother' had been found," he said. "After talking to them for five to ten minutes I felt like I'd known them all my life. They were just that kind of people."

It wasn't long before the siblings arranged to meet. By way of emails and phone calls, plans were made. Bernice calls her first meeting with John "incredible."

Bernice and John had agreed to meet in Gainesville, sort of a halfway point between where the two now live. Bernice remembers the first time she saw John.

"I saw him walking up with a bouquet of flowers. We ran to each other and hugged," Bernice said. "I was on cloud nine." With John and Gene's 60th anniversary approaching, their children asked their parents what they'd like for a present. Their answer was simple - a family reunion. And so the Williamson children planned a big party for June 20.

Forty people from the Robbins family joined 22 Williamson family members and descended on John and Gene's home that weekend. John met the families of his brothers and sisters and he and Gene took hundreds of pictures. The first part of the day was the Robbins family reunion, and in the evening it became John and Gene's 60th anniversary celebration.

"It was just great. Our children did it all and we had such a great time," John said, talking about sons Robin and Tommy Williamson who cooked barbecue.

The children hired a disc jockey. The youngest visitors spent the day in the pool in the back yard. When it was time for dinner everyone joined hands, the line stretching all the way around the pool, as grace was said.

"I just can't tell you how special it all was," said John. "It was absolutely great."

For Bernice, it means so much to her that her baby brother had a good family to raise him and has a lovely family now. After a lifetime of looking at strangers, wondering if they were her brother, now she has answers.

"Growing up I always knew something was missing in my life," Bernice said. "It was him.