When Edinburgh resident Maryann Gallagher-Little pulls out her phone to FaceTime with her sister, Cindy Allison, they communicate with the familiarity of siblings who have known each other their whole lives.
Until last November, however, the two had never spoken.
Gallagher-Little grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas as the only child of Daniel and Bonnie Gallagher.
Her parents divorced and she grew up with her mother, Gallagher-Little said. When she was 11, however, her mother left Wichita Falls with a man she worked with, sending Gallagher-Little to stay with her father through her teen years.
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Her father worked as a custodian at a local high school, and asbestos exposure coupled with a smoking habit led to him developing lung cancer.
Despite a lung removal operation, he died from his illness when Gallagher-Little was 17, leaving her to support herself.
“I had my own apartment, worked a full time job and went to school,” she said. “I’ve been on my own since I was 17.”
With few options after graduation, she decided to leave Texas and move in with an aunt in Beech Grove, Indiana in December 1996.
She stayed in the area until she and her husband, Doyne Little, moved to Edinburgh in 2005, where they still live.
Gallagher-Little settled down in Edinburgh, earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus.
Her past and her parents’ history, however, still held an unsolved mystery.
During a visit back to Wichita Falls a few years ago, Gallagher-Little heard from a family friend about a half-sister that her mother had given up for adoption about five years before Gallagher-Little was born.
Shocked, she called her mother, but her mother gave only vague details about the year of the adoption and was unwilling to discuss it any further.
Unbeknownst to Gallagher-Little, across the country, the sibling she had heard about from the family friend was also thinking of her.
Cindy Allison had known she was adopted since she was a child. Her adoptive parents, Claudia and Jim Fleischer, were open with their daughter about the subject.
“(I had known) since I was early enough to know,” she said.
She got along well with her adoptive family, and had even started a family of her own, getting married and having three children in Wichita Falls.
Last year, with full support from her adopted family, Allison had her closed adoption opened. She learned her birth mother’s identity, and the identity of her half-sister too.
Using a website called Adoption Search Registry, Allison found Gallagher-Little’s cell phone number.
She then had to make a decision about whether to continue her life as usual or seek out her long-lost half-sister.
Allison took time to consider all of the possibilities before making the call.
“I waited a little while,” she said. “My husband and I discussed it. I stalked her on Facebook. And I just said ‘OK, I’ve got to do this. If I don’t do it now, I won’t do it.”
On the evening of Nov. 8, while Allison prepared to make the call that would change both of their lives, she wondered how she would be received by Gallagher-Little.
She worried that her sibling would not believe her, or think she was being scammed.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, how she was going to respond, what she was going to think I wanted out of this,” Allison said.
When her phone rang, Gallagher-Little was at her Edinburgh home preparing for the Friday arrival of two foster children.
“She (Allison) called and said, ‘I know this sounds weird, but you’re my sister,’” Gallagher-Little said. “I started crying.”
Determined to show her sincerity, Allison sent Gallagher-Little the documents proving that they shared a mother.
“She sent me a picture of the adoption and it had my mom’s name on it,” Gallagher-Little said. “And she kept saying over and over, ‘I don’t want anything from you.’”
They began talking on the phone daily and quickly made arrangements to meet in Wichita Falls on April 4.
Gallagher-Little said that she was nervous and excited during her flight to Texas, where she would spend four days with her half-sister.
When the plane landed at the Wichita Falls Municipal Airport, the two women embraced.
“We just hugged. We had talked so much that we knew each other,” Allison said. “We had been talking constantly for weeks.”
The two spent the trip catching up. Gallagher-Little met her half-sister’s friends and family, including her adoptive mother.
They discovered that they had nearly crossed paths at various points in their lives and unknowingly grew up within 10 miles of each other.
When Gallagher-Little left Wichita Falls, the two promised to keep in contact, and have done so.
“We still have a lot to talk about. Four days just isn’t long enough to catch up on 40 years of not knowing,” Gallagher-Little said. “We try to either talk or text every day.”
They hope to have more time together next spring, when Allison plans to bring her family to Edinburgh to visit. Her husband and children, have embraced Gallagher-Little as part of the family as fully as she has, Allison said.
“I love her. It’s like we’ve never been apart. She’s my little sister,” Allison said. “Even the kids are just in love with her.”
Since meeting her sister, Gallagher-Little has found a new person to confide in.
“I have somebody that I can bond with,” Gallagher-Little said.
After being apart for so long, the two are now building their relationship day by day, an experience they are both grateful for.
“It (my sister) just feels like this I didn’t know was missing,” Allison said. “And now she’s there.”
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If you or someone you know was adopted and would like to find out information about birth parents, Indiana state policies and information request forms can be found at in.gov/isdh/20371.htm.