6 decades later, siblings reunited

Published 2:47 am Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Ray Miller has always remembered having a baby sister, but until last month, he had not seen her in 60 years.

The siblings were placed in separate foster homes when Ray was about 2 years old. Later, he went back to live with his mother, who had remarried. His mom and stepfather talked to him about Virginia Mae.

“I remember sitting at the kitchen table and them telling about it,” he said. “I was maybe 3 or 4.”

When he was a child, he would often scan a crowd, imagining that he’d be able to find her. When he was older, he told his wife, Pam, about her, and she, too, began looking.

Earlier this year – thanks to a snow day in New York – that search ended, and last month, Ray and Virginia Mae were reunited.

They were born Ray and Virginia Mae Ercolano to a very young couple stationed at a military base in Texas. When the couple separated, Sylvia Ercolano returned to her native Long Island, but her parents told her she couldn’t come home with two babies. That’s when the desperate young mom put her children in foster care.

Even though she always acknowledged to her son that he had a full sister somewhere, he was not allowed to ask questions about her or his biological father.

When Ray and Pam Miller married, the mystery drew her in. The couple agrees that she looked harder for Virginia than he did.

“Pam and her sister Penny got kind of nosy,” he said.

That was before records were available online.

“I did the regular stuff,” Pam said. “I tried to find her birth records. We knew they were all from Long Island, N.Y. I tried to find his dad for years. I sent a bunch of forms seeking information in New York, but New York adoptions are very strict and private.”

Ray’s half-sister, Debbie, joined the search, too.

“She was able to ask their mother more questions,” Pam said. “Ray was apprehensive about asking, because growing up, he was not allowed to ask.

As the years went on, the couple learned that Sylvia Ercolano Miller knew who had adopted her daughter.

“We found out Virginia’s adoptive parents were Billy and Eleanor Carter from Long Island,” Pam said. “So I went to the white pages and the yellow pages. I got the address of every William and Bill Carter in Long Island I could. I wrote a blanket letter and did a mass mailout to every one. I never got a response.”

For years, her instincts told her that the sister-in-law she’d never met lived in the Tallahassee area. They would prove to be right.

But first, she found her husband’s biological father with a random phone call.

About 20 years ago, the Millers were vacationing in Manassas, Va., where a family member managed a large restaurant. When talk turned to the hunt for Ray’s family, the restaurant manager said, “Hey, we’ve got a bus boy with the name of Ercolano.”

Pam said she got the number and placed the call.

“His half-sister, Theresa, answered the phone,” Pam recalled. “We talked for a little bit, and I said, ‘I think your dad is my husband’s dad, too.’ ”

It was indeed Ray’s biological father. They talked the next day, and corresponded for several years, but his father had no information about his daughter.

“He was like 19-years-old when they got divorced,” Pam said. “He didn’t know what had happened.”

Ray and Pam also began corresponding with his half-siblings.

“Ray has a brother named Tim on his daddy’s side,” she said. “We’ve never met him, but we are friends on Facebook, and we text and chat.”

In March of this year, Pam was at work at the medical clinic she manages in Texas.

“He started texting me random questions,” Pam recalled.

Ray’s biological father had died 10 years ago. His brother Tim, who is a contractor, couldn’t work that March day because of snow, and decided it was time to “clean out” his father’s computer. Buried in the correspondence was an email from Virginia – now known as Ginny – searching for her father.

“She had found all of these Ercolano email addresses,” Pam said. “She sent mass emails looking for him.”

After texting several questions, Tim said, “Hey, I think I found Ray’s sister. Here’s her phone number. Her name is Ginny Carter Crew.

“I’m just like freaking out,” Pam said. “I called my sister and told her the name. She is a Facebook stalker. Pretty soon, she sent me a screenshot of her picture. As soon as I saw her, I knew it was Ray’s sister. They look just alike.”

Ray recognized his sister immediately.

“I walked in and showed him the picture,” Pam recalled. “I said, ‘Do you know who that his person is?’ His knees just buckled. He said, ‘That’s my sister. That’s her. That’s Virginia.”

From the random email sent more than 20 years ago, Ray and Pam learned that his sister lived only four hours away in Perry, Fla., during the 25 years they lived in Andalusia.

Soon they learned that Ginny was adopted by the foster family, the Carters. Her adoptive mom died when Ginny was 11 or 12, and her father took her and moved to South Florida. Within a year, he remarried. At 13, Ginny ended up back in foster care, and remains close to her second foster mom. Ginny met her husband, Kent, when she was 16, and they’ve lived in Perry since 1975.

“She had a rough life, but she’s really happy now,” Ray said.

Unlike Ray, Ginny did not remember her sibling. But she has always known she had a brother and dreamed of finding him.

Despite having lived a lifetime apart, the siblings have many similar traits. They look alike. They hold their mouths exactly the same way. They both smoke. Neither cares for vegetables. Both love the water.

“They sound alike,” Pam said. “You hear big belly laughs when they laugh. It was almost like they were twins. It was weird because they had an instant connection.”

There was one difference.

“She’s a Seminole fan, I’m an Alabama fan,” Ray said. But because his sister sent him a Seminole shirt and had it printed with “big brother” on the back, he wore it – momentarily – when he went to meet her.

Both are the parents of three children, who along with their grandchildren are getting to know their long-lost cousins.

“I’m just so happy that we found her,” Pam said. “It’s kind of like when I first met her, I felt like I had known her my whole life.”

Ginny said all she’d ever wanted was to meet her brother.

Ray and Ginny’s biological mom also has been to visit her daughter. The reason she only went back for one of her children remains a secret she won’t divulge.

Meanwhile, Ray and Pam are thankful that their half brother spent a snowy day reading old emails.