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Published Friday October 16th, 2009 at 2:35pm

Original Article by Jason Wright

Craig Stern was elated to find out he had a grandmother in Alpharetta. Here the two pause for a photo at Josephine Cole's home off Academy Street.
For native New Yorker Craig Stern, his first trip to Alpharetta, Georgia was a whirlwind of emotion. That's bound to happen, though, when you meet a whole new -- and quite large -- family you only found out about a few months earlier.

"It was a pretty intense weekend, I must say," said Stern. "I have some cousins here [in Garrison, N.Y., where he lives], but to find out you have this whole family? I'm still in shock to this day."

This is the story of a large question in Stern's life and how the answer led him into the Alpharetta home of his grandmother, 80-year-old Josephine Cole.

Adopted at birth by parents from Yonkers, N.Y., Stern never met his mother's family. Stern knew he was adopted, but the desire to find them wasn't too strong because his parents were so good to him, he said.

But as he got older the curiosity grew, and he had a good place to start. Stern's adoptive mother had a lot of information on the woman who had given him up. Her name was Maria Boscalia, she was 22 when she gave birth to him in 1968, and she had lived in Hialeah, Fla.

As he got into his 20s, Stern began poking around on the Internet and various adoption message boards trying to find any link to his birth mother. One name always popped up: Mario Boscalia. He was about her age and even lived in Tampa, Fla.

"I had a feeling she had probably gotten married [she had, and her last name was Jones]," he said. "But there are only like 14 or 15 people with that last name in the United States that I could see, so I knew it had to be one of them."

The problem, said Stern, is that it is very hard to pick up that phone not knowing who -- or what -- is on the other end.

"I was never comfortable picking up the phone and contacting them," he said. "I didn't want to destroy their family or hurt someone."

So time passed. Stern said his curiosity would ebb and flow, once getting so strong he even contacted the Montel Williams show to see if they could help. It would continue on like this until May of this year, when Stern, now 41 and a father himself, decided life was too short to wait any longer.

He was going through a divorce and had recently joined Facebook. When he entered in the last name Boscalia, again popped up Mario -- and this time with a picture.

"I was at a time when I realized I probably wasn't going to have many more opportunities," he said. "So I sent him an e-mail. You only live once, and you've gotta do it."

Late the next night Mario Boscalia responded. He did know Maria Boscalia. Quite well, in fact -- she was his sister. But she had died of cancer on Oct. 20, 2005, in Cape Coral, Fla. The news was devastating.

"That was a very rough, emotional night," said Stern.

Soon contacts started flooding his inbox. Stern received an e-mail from an aunt in Canada who explained he had a slew of relatives, including a sister in North Carolina and a grandmother in Alpharetta.

"I thought, 'I still have a grandmother who's alive? Oh my God, that's incredible,'" he said. "I was elated with joy."

Then came the phone calls and the trips to North Carolina to see that sister, Tommie Barrios. It turns out Maria had told her about the adoption, and she had been looking for him for 15 years, as well.

The two met in June and immediately began making plans for the family reunion over the Sept. 11 weekend at Cole's home in Alpharetta.

Cole said she was shocked when Stern contacted Mario. She said one of her daughter's last wishes was to see the boy she had given up.

"When Mario called me, I said, 'Mario, do you reckon it could be Maria's son?,'" said Cole. "The chills shot through my body."

She was then able to fill in the missing pieces for Stern.

Maria Boscalia was 22 years old when she got pregnant by a man who left soon after. Cole had remarried and moved away, so Maria decided to put the baby up for adoption.

"She didn't have anybody to turn to," said Cole.

Maria always wondered about her son, but didn't know where to turn to find him. Time just ran out for Maria before the two could meet again, Cole said.

"[Stern] told me that when he found out his mother was dead and that he had a sister, he cried and cried and cried," said Cole. "He said he went into the kitchen and just went to pieces. It was really sad for him."

Fortunately, said Cole, the Boscalia clan was more than willing to take him in "as their own blood."

"We all got together and celebrated," she said. "You've got to be happy and do everything you can -- life is too short."

Pretty much the whole family made it out except, ironically, Mario -- who couldn't come from Florida. There were plenty of laughs and stories told. And some tears, too, for Maria's passing from cancer.

Stern said he's glad he picked up that phone as a way to cope with his divorce.

"I just wish I'd done it 10 years ago," he said.