LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — The Herrera family has been in the mid-Michigan area for more than 40 years but they had no idea half of their family tree was just down the road.
A TikTok video that was created in April ultimately brought together five brothers and sisters.
Josie Herrera began her search in honor of her mom Magdalena, who passed away in 2015.
Josie submitted DNA samples to pretty much all of the major websites. It took a while to get results, but eventually, they came in. She had a sister who had previously submitted DNA. Maria Gray.
Before Josie could even reach out to her newfound sister, Maria commented on the TikTok she had released a few weeks back.
“I’m right here, sis, I’m right here,” Maria said.
Sitting in order of oldest to youngest in the photo above are Maria and Jerry, who were adopted out together. Martin, who was adopted by himself, and Philip and Josie, who were raised by all their birth mother.
After being separated, Maria actually lived in a foster home with Martin for a short time. Later, she was adopted by Jerry’s new family, but she didn’t realize at the time that Martin was her brother.
Shortly after making the connection with Josie on TikTok, Maria and Jerry figured out what Martin’s new last name might be. A couple of Google searches later, there was Martin.
“I got a phone call late in the evening from her (Josie) and I thought it was a scam, to be honest. I really thought it was a scam,” Martin said. “At first I told her you have to give me some time. Probably an hour, two hours later I was like I’ll meet you Thursday. So my time was about two hours or so.”
Since they’ve met, it’s been an instant connection, but it wasn’t necessarily easy coming around on this idea of a whole new family.
“I was thinking that I didn’t want to because my mom couldn’t see her kids so why should I? I just didn’t think it was fair, Phillip said. “It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.”
Having spent her whole life with Jerry, Maria didn’t how her brother was going to take the news that he had a whole other family just down the road. She said she was shocked by what she saw.
“When I told my brother to come over, that I had something important to tell him, I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it,” Maria said. “So when I did tell him, I took a step back to let him process everything. Instantly, I could see a change in his attitude. His whole demeanor. And it warmed my heart because he’s never been like that before.”
“I always questioned why…why was I given up for adoption? Was I not loved? Was I not wanted?” Jerry said. “Come to find out that wasn’t the case. I was very much loved, very much wanted.”
One of the things that united the siblings is their search for their oldest sister, Janie Lou Salinas. She was born on either July 30 or July 31, 1970. They believe she was adopted out through St. Vincent Catholic Services in Lansing and may have ended up in Stockbridge, Michigan.
They haven’t found her yet, but they’re driven to give their sister the same feeling of reassurance that they’ve experienced.
“We really want to find Janie Lou. That’s our number one goal right now,” Maria said. “I just thank god that we found our family.”
“And I’m not letting her go,” Josie said.
As five of the six siblings have been reunited, the search has certainly narrowed. But the Herrera family won’t stop until they complete the family tree. That’s because it’s what their mother always wanted more than anything.
“I remember growing up and catching my mom crying and I never understood why,” Josie said. “As I got older, I understood. She was remembering their birthdays.”
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