Long-lost sisters meet in Sandusky

SANDUSKY Three years ago Karen Gundlach thought she was an only child. The 58-year-ol
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Three years ago Karen Gundlach thought she was an only child.

The 58-year-old Perkins Township woman said although she was content growing up, something was missing.

In the early morning hours of Monday, an Amtrak train delivered what -- or rather who -- was missing. She met her sister for the first time.

Cries of "You're here!" and "My God, I can't believe it," escaped the women's lips as they sobbed on each other's shoulders.

The meeting was a long time in the making.

Finding each other

Two years ago Gundlach learned she had a sibling.

"I was raised by my grandma and found out my mom had another daughter three years after me and immediately gave her up for adoption," she said. "I was blown away."

Gundlach said she didn't know where to start. Her mother had died and any information she could have offered her eldest daughter died with her.

One state away, another woman searched for her biological family.

Since her early 20s, Debra Criffield, who was adopted as a baby, traveled through many states, took wrong turns and hit dead ends -- all with the hopes of finding the right route to the family she'd never known.

"I had started searching as soon as I came of age. I just had to know," she said. "I lived in a home with two other adopted children and they had located their families, so it was my turn. It finally came."

One of Criffield's sisters traced the family's lineage over the Internet and gave her a good lead.

"I contacted people in the town and left a message with the church," Criffield said.

A family friend of Gundlach worked at the area church and called Criffield to ask her questions about her inquiry. When the family friend hung up the phone, she called Gundlach to tell her she'd found her long-lost sister.

"I didn't know what to think, she had found me," Gundlach recalled. "It was 2:30 in the morning and I wanted to call her so bad but I knew I had to wait for a decent time. I think I called around 6:30."

Less than two months ago Criffield, 55, was at home in Wodagiac, Mich., when she received Gundlach's call, a call that put an end to a 35-year search for answers.

"I was surprised," Criffield said.

The two have since spent countless hours talking on the phone, trying to catch-up on lost time.

Sisters meet

Waiting for the Amtrak train early Monday morning, Gundlach couldn't contain her excitement. When 1 and then 1:15 a.m. showed on the clock, she questioned where the train was and why it wasn't at the station.

"I can't wait," she said, choking up. "Other people have brothers and sisters, so they don't understand how I feel. I'm meeting mine after all these years, for the first time. It's overwhelming but I cannot wait."

At 1:30 a.m., the train squealed to a stop in front of the platform.

Gundlach's husband, Hal, escorted her past snow banks to the train's open doors.

With a small gasp, Gundlach ran toward the open arms of the dark-haired, dark-eyed woman she recognized from pictures she'd received in the mail.

Too excited to sleep, the pair stayed up until after 7 a.m., talking about Criffield's search and their lives.

"I cried and I cried," Gundlach said later that day. "She's definitely my mom's daughter. She has her nose. Nobody has a nose like my mom."

Both women said the joy and peace they felt was indescribable.

"You see it on TV, but you never really think it will happen for you," Gundlach said. "It's wonderful."

Criffield said she's relieved and thankful she never gave up.

"I'd try for a while, get frustrated, stop and then get everything out again," she said. "When I think of the time, energy, anticipation and hope I've put in to it ... there's just no words to explain how it is to finally make a find."