Last December, as she celebrated her 60th birthday, Maxine Bryant had a startling realization. After basically living her whole life not knowing anyone from her birth family, she got the feeling that she may never actually meet them.
“I’m probably gonna die and not know my birth family,” Bryant thought.
Bryant was adopted soon after she was born in Indianapolis. Her parents, already struggling to feed three girls and two boys, didn’t think they could take on a sixth child. The way her sisters remember it, the adoption was like something out of a dreary movie: A man came to their home on a cold winter night, and their parents handed over the baby Maxine, who was born Heretha Infant Peoples.
That was the last time the four sisters were together — until Bryant made a last-ditch effort to reconnect with the family she was born into.
After that 60th birthday, Bryant took an AncestryDNA test and got a match. It wasn’t one of her sisters, but it was the closest she’d ever been since beginning a serious search in her 30s.
Bryant matched with a great-niece who took the test to learn more about her ancestry. She never checked back and didn’t get Bryant’s messages, so Bryant went to Facebook and found a family member, Victoria Peoples, who was also the girl’s great-aunt.
Bryant sent a message Aug. 9 explaining her journey to find her family. The selling point: Bryant mentioned that she was born Infant Peoples, the family name.
“That’s when my heart started beating,” Peoples, 67, recalled.
They met Aug. 18 in Macon, Georgia, about halfway between where Bryant lives in Savannah, Georgia, and the other three sisters in Atlanta.
Peoples and the oldest sister, Donzella lett, 69, were old enough to have memories of Maxine as a baby. They remembered the night she went to a new family. But Birdie Peoples-Ferguson, 62, whose granddaughter Bryant found on Facebook, had no memories of her younger sister.
“You knew this person exists,” Peoples-Ferguson said. “You always wondered where she was, if she was alive. … We always talked about her among us, and we always knew she was out there and wondered where she is and what she looks like.”
They also had two brothers — Charles Peoples Jr. and Dennis Peoples — who died.
The three sisters spent some time searching for Bryant. The most promising route seemed to be Peoples writing to daytime TV shows like “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Find My Family,” but she rarely got a response.
Bryant, now a professor at Georgia Southern University, searched hospital records, tracked down old neighbors who used to live next to her birth family in Indianapolis and ultimately gave it one final go with a DNA test.
The thing is, it’s possible these sisters did meet as adults before August. They just wouldn’t have known it.
Bryant lived in Saginaw, Michigan, from the early 1980s until 1990. Triplett and Peoples-Ferguson lived in Flint, Michigan, that whole time — about a 40-minute drive away. Bryant then moved to Savannah, Georgia, in 2011, and all three other sisters have been in Atlanta, about 3 1/2 hours away, for three years.
The four sisters were in Indianapolis for a few days to get back to the last place they were all together before just a few months ago.
They’re getting along like normal sisters now: teasing each other, jumping in when someone gets a detail wrong. They don’t fight — not yet, anyway.
At one point while they were talking among each other about what life was like back when they were kids in Indianapolis, Bryant turned to Peoples-Ferguson to talk about “your mother.” She stopped herself. Because it was actually their mother, but Bryant’s life has changed so drastically that it’s taking some getting used to.
“I go back and forth,” Bryant said. “I know that she’s our mom, my mom. And, I have to say this, out of the four of us, I look most like her.”
That’s maybe the most serious point of contention right now. Who looks most like their birth mother? Peoples-Ferguson believes she’s a good candidate, too. They went back and forth with this for a minute, even pulling out pictures for comparison.
Then Peoples-Ferguson cut through.
“I think we’re all beautiful,” she said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Victoria Peoples and Birdie Peoples-Ferguson lived in Flint, Michigan, but it was actually Peoples-Ferguson and Donzella Triplett.