An unknown woman’s shaky, nervous voice said the words she won’t ever forget: “I know it sounds weird, but I’m your sister.”

Maryann Gallagher-Little almost dropped the phone. Tears formed in her eyes as she tried to process what she was hearing. The Edinburgh resident had been told she had a sibling, one that had been given up for adoption before she was born.

But after her mother abandoned the family when she was a child, and her father died just a few years later, she had assumed her family was gone.

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Now, out of nowhere, an unknown bloodline had reached out to her.

“I never thought in a million years that this would happen,” Gallagher-Little said. “I still don’t believe it’s real, but it is.”

Over the past four months, Gallagher-Little has reconnected with the sister that she never knew. She and Cindy Allison have tried to make up for more than 40 years of absence from each other’s lives. They’ve constantly talked on the phone and over Facebook chat, and in early April were able to meet face-to-face for the first time ever.

After so much time, the two sisters realize that they have years of catching up to do. But already, they have the comfortable relationship that only siblings have.

“It seems like she’s been in my life forever, even if we’ve only known each other a few months,” Allison said. “I’m thankful that we found each other. I’ll never regret finding Maryann. She’s my little sis.”

Speaking about her newly discovered sister still brings tears to Gallagher-Little’s eyes. The 40-year-old grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, a large city in far northern Texas, just near the Oklahoma border. Her mother had left her family when she was 12 years old, and her father had died of complications from lung cancer when she was 17.

She was alone.

“I was a junior in high school. I’ve basically raised myself since I was 17. I got a full-time job, went to school, had my own apartment,” she said.

Gallagher-Little moved to Indiana to be closer to her aunt, and other than a two-week bout of homesickness that motivated her to move to Texas, has lived here ever since.

Though she had known that her mother had given up a sibling for adoption before she was born, she didn’t know who that was. She had always thought that it was a little boy.

Adoption records are closed by law in Texas, and Gallagher-Little’s attempts to learn about her sibling were stymied. She did manage to piece together some details of the adoption: that it had occurred in September 1971 or 1972.

It turns out that information was accurate. Allison was born on Sept. 5, 1972, put up for adoption and taken in by a couple from Texas. Her parents did not hide the fact that she was adopted from her, and she had a happy childhood.

“It was never a secret, and never made to be a big deal. They chose me, and my biological mother made the decision that helped me have a better life,” Allison said.

For Allison, finding her other family members was essential. She and her children had suffered from a variety of different health problems. When her son started experiencing seizures at age 18 out of the blue, Allison decided it was imperative to learn about potential genetic factors that were causing their problems.

“I had thought about it over the years, but I didn’t have any clue (Gallagher-Little) was out there. I just knew my mom was out there,” she said.

Allison petitioned Texas officials to get her records opened in order to learn more about her medical background. That exemption was granted.

Using information from the records, and enlisting the help of an online site that helps people who have been adopted find their biological relatives, Allison found out that she had a sister. Better yet, she had a phone number for her.

She made the phone call in November, though not without some trepidation.

“I was really afraid that she would hang up on me. Then I was really afraid she’d think I wanted something,” she said. “There were a ton of feelings, anxiousness, scared, all of that. It was really scary.”

Her anxiety was unwarranted. Gallagher-Little was overjoyed to talk to the sister she didn’t know she had. They connected almost immediately.

“It was wonderful, because I didn’t have anyone else by blood,” she said. “I’ve had contact maybe three or four times in the last 20 years with my mom, so this was all I had.”

On April 4, Gallagher-Little flew to Texas to meet Allison. They spent a precious few days together, going shopping, eating at restaurants and talking for hours. Allison introduced her sister to her husband and children, as well as to her adopted mother.

They discovered they lived down the street from each other in the late 1990s in Wichita Falls.

“She ran me ragged. It was so much fun, and now I miss her so much,” Allison said. “I keep trying to figure out a way for her to move here and how it would work, so we can see each other on a regular basis.”

Their visit was bittersweet, as the four days together seemed to pass much too quickly. Still, both women know that their connection will only grow, now that they’ve found each other.

“It wasn’t enough. It was sad to leave,” Gallagher-Little said. “But it was a nice start.”

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.