INDIANAPOLIS - Adopted at the age of 3 months in 1958, Indianapolis native Maxine Bryant always had wanted to reconnect with her birth family. Although she tried to track them down, the trail always went cold.
So this summer Bryant took an online DNA test to learn more about her ancestry and hopefully find her birth family. The site identified only one person as a living relative: Mishijah Triplett.
About four years earlier Triplett had taken a DNA test. She signed up not to find living relatives but to trace her heritage to Africa.
As any astute reader can see where this story is headed, Bryant reconnected with her siblings through Triplett. It's an increasingly common heartwarmer of a tale — genetic testing brings long-lost family together — but this time with a twist because of the history of slavery.
Before 1870 African Americans appear on census records only as property and not by individual names. So DNA tests can answer what census records cannot.
Had Triplett not wondered about her ancestry, Bryant might never have been reunited with her three sisters, who last saw her when she was an infant. One of Bryant's siblings is Triplett's grandmother.
In retrospect, Triplett, now 27 and living in Atlanta, vaguely remembers hearing something about her grandmother having had another sister.
Her focus, however, was far from that family lore.
"I really just wanted to get some information about my heritage, where I come from, like literally dating back to Africa, just going all the way back, to see what was in my DNA," Triplett said. "It was just interesting more than anything."
Triplett learned that her family came from the area near the Congo and confirmed that she had had a Japanese ancestor on her mother's side.
Then she never really thought about the test again.
For years, though, Bryant had wondered how she might find her birth family.
Born in what was at the time Indianapolis General Hospital (the forebear of Eskenazi Hospital), Bryant always had known she was adopted. As a child, she learned that she had lived with her birth family, who had five older children, for about three months.
Her family, who could not afford a sixth child, arranged for an older couple who had endured 17 miscarriages to legally adopt her.
Her new parents made it very clear that her birth parents had done what they thought best for her.
"They didn't want me to have any ill feelings," she said. "They wanted me to feel comfortable about my adoption. They didn't want me to feel I wasn't loved."
When she was about 7, she met her biological father, who by that point was separated from her biological mother.
She remembers getting dressed up for the occasion and meeting a tall man, who seemed much younger than her adoptive parents, who were old enough to be her grandparents.
"It was really cool to meet this tall, handsome man who was my father," she said. "That was amazing. I can't remember the conversation at all, just remember him looking me and saying, 'You look so much like your mom.'"
By this point, Bryant would later learn, the rest of her biological family had relocated to Ohio and were still struggling financially.
The couple who adopted her, however, were a typical middle class family. Bryant graduated from North Central High School and Ball State University.
Her birth father's comment stuck with Bryant. Somewhere, out there, she knew was a woman who looked like her, sisters and brothers who shared her genes.
"I longed to meet my biological family and see them and get to see people who were my blood," she said.
After 1990, when the mother who raised her died, Bryant tried to find her family. She knew their last name was Peoples. But she only hit dead ends.
Earlier this year, after she heard some other success stories of people who had done DNA testing, she decided to try it herself. When the results came back in August, there was one match, a name that was not Peoples.
Still, Bryant messaged Triplett through the DNA testing website. When she did not hear back, she tried Facebook. Only later did she learn Triplett had done the testing years earlier and never checked her account on her site. Nor did she see the Facebook message.
So Bryant reached out to two of Triplett's friends on social media with the last name of Peoples. About a week later, she got a call.
"I think you're my sister who was given up for adoption in 1958," said the woman on the other end of the phone, Victoria Peoples.
Both women started screaming and crying.
"You're my baby sister!" Peoples said. "You're the sister we've all been looking for."
The two soon realized they were both living in Georgia, just a few hours away from one another. Bryant lived in Savannah, and her birth sisters in Atlanta.
Within a few days, they met for the first time in Macon, between the two cities. By the end of the month, Bryant had attended her first Peoples family reunion.
The more she learned about her birth family, the more the similarities struck her.
Bryant teaches criminal justice and has worked at correctional institutions. Birdie, the sister closest in age to her, worked for the Georgia Department of Corrections. Her middle sister Victoria is a performer. Bryant studied theater in college and is a spoken-word artist.
Bryant has enjoyed getting to know them and her oldest sister, DeeDee.
"I'm finding out so much information about me. It's like I'm rediscovering me," Bryant said. "There's this whole world of DNA and what it can tell us about ourselves even when we don't have the whole story initially, like I didn't."
Reuniting with her birth family has had some bittersweet moments for Bryant, such as learning that her two brothers had each died a few years earlier.
But there also has been daily phone calls between Bryant and her three older sisters. Earlier this month, the four of them took a road trip to Indianapolis, the place they last lived together as a family.
The sisters were going to visit the home they lived in as well as the schools they attended. Bryant, who comes back often to visit family, had a speaking engagement on Oct. 13 at Scott United Methodist Church.
For Triplett, finding a long-lost great aunt has whetted her appetite to learn more about her past.
"It was really just like a miracle that came out of nowhere," she said. "I am thankful that this happened. It's testament to the fact that you just never know how all the dots connect in life."