Most people use Facebook to catch up with people they've already met or know. But with a few hopeful clicks, a Cross man and his sister reunited their family after nearly 50 years.
As infants, William Alexander Jr., 49, and Sharon Alexander, 48, left Washington, D.C., with their father to live with him and his parents in Pennsylvania.
There were no recollections or pictures of their young mother or their older brothers and sister. They didn't begin to ask questions until they were much older.
But in 2004, Alexander was planning his wedding and said he felt the need to locate his mother. He had only the information from his birth certificate and the basics his dad could share.
He tried websites and services in addition to the church in his mother's last known neighborhood, but never found the woman known as Nina Cooper.
Alexander admits he dropped the ball after those failed attempts. But his sister, Sharon, picked it up in July this year and ran with it, straight to Facebook. She knew Nina's 70th birthday was coming up and wanted to find her.
Sharon decided to search Facebook for names that matched their mother or older brother, Wonzell.
A “Wonzell Cooper” in Washington popped up, but based on his age, 32, Sharon assumed he must be her nephew, since that's not a very common first name. She messaged him but received no response.
Sharon continued to look through Wonzell's “Friends” list for anyone who had the last name Cooper. She saw a profile pic for “Lady T. Cooper” and thought, “Well, she looks like us.”
After going back to the picture several times over several days, she said she decided there was no harm in sending an email. So on July 3, she sent one to Lady T., asking if she was related to Nina and Wonzell Cooper.
A week went by, and then another.
Then on July 23, while walking her dogs, Sharon received the email that notified her a message was waiting to be read on Facebook. Although she had been hoping to hear back from Lady T., she certainly didn't expect the response she received.
The message was simple and said, “Yes, I'm related to Nina and Wonzell Cooper. Are you my sister?”
Sharon was so overcome that she just paced around and around with her dogs and responded with just one word, “Yes.”
Earlier in the month, Nina Cooper, now known as Nina Allen, had been looking through family albums and was wondering about Alexander and where he was. Nothing could have prepared her for the news she received the next week. Once Lady T., otherwise known as Terri Cooper, 50, had confirmation that Sharon was her little sister, she dropped by her mother's home unexpectedly.
Allen opened the door and Terri was standing with a big grin on her face, and her cellphone opened up to a picture. Allen said, “Why are you walking around with my picture?”
Cooper said, “Mom, that's your daughter” and Allen said she just broke down.
Within a matter of days, it became “like Christmas in July,” William Alexander said. His phone didn't stop ringing, and he didn't sleep for three days.
He spoke with his older brothers and sister as well as two younger sisters he didn't know he had. He also learned of a younger brother who died and would have been 42 this year.
The conversations were sincere and every call ended with an “I love you.”
William and Sharon's father, William Alexander Sr., encouraged the reconnection with the mother of his oldest children.
“I was so young and wasn't able to take care of (the children), so I asked him (William Sr.) if he could take them,” their mother said.
She and William Sr. also spoke on the phone during those first few days.
After speaking with her son, Allen was ecstatic and wanted to meet him right away, but since she was in D.C. and he was in South Carolina, it wasn't going to be an easy task.
Alexander's wife, Esther, said that the family was all excited and fussing about who was going to bring Allen down to Cross. Then, on Aug. 11, William and Esther just hopped in the car and drove up to get her.
Their visit to Washington was supposed to be a surprise, but Alexander couldn't contain himself and called everyone and told them they were coming. He spoke to his brother for so long that the battery on his phone died before he got to Richmond, Va.
After he charged his cellphone, he discovered that family members already were starting to gather for his arrival.
William said seeing his mother for the first time in 49 years was shocking, but that everything went really well.
“I wasn't sure how they would receive me, but God has blessed us. ... We feel more complete now.”
It didn't end there, though. William and Esther brought his mother back to Cross to stay with them for a week, and Sharon drove over from her home in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Terri already had planned a vacation to Myrtle Beach the next weekend, so she took a detour, and five carloads of family unloaded onto William's lawn for an afternoon. Sharon said it was as if only days had passed between them, rather than years.
William thinks the success of the search this time around is because of all of the advances in technology, compared with his attempts eight years ago.
Previously, he used Facebook only occasionally, but now he checks it at least two to three times each week. After all, he has all these sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews to keep up with.
Nina Allen meets her son, William Alexander Jr., for the first time in 49 years after he traveled to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Esther Alexander (right).×
William Alexander Jr., (left) and Sharon Alexander (right) recently were reunited with their mother, Nina Allen.×
William Alexander Jr. and his sister, Sharon Alexander, at their high school graduation in Pennsylvania.×
Nikki Cooper, Wonzell Cooper, Esther Alexander, Nina Allen, William Alexander Jr. and Terri Cooper at their reunion in Washington, D.C.×