Betty Morrell, 82, has been reunited with her 96-year-old birthmother, Lena Pierce, for the first time since she was a baby.
"She cried and hugged me and said, 'It's been so long, it's been so long,' " Morrell told People.
The emotional get-together that took place in Binghamton Airport in New York on January 15.
Morrell, of Spring Hill, Florida, has been desperately trying to trace her mother since her adoptive parents died in 1954.
"I hired private detectives, called adoption agencies and wrote letters to anyone that might have been able to help me," says Morrell.
"I believe in fate though, and I think we were meant to meet, when we were meant to meet."
Pierce gave birth to Morrell in a Utica, New York, hospital in 1933, at the age of 13. Pierce was a ward of the state at the time and kept the baby, who she named Eva May with her initially.
But after six months, the state of New York placed Eva May under the care of an adoptive family in Long Island, where Morrell grew up as an only child.
"One day a neighbor kid came up to me and said, 'You know you're adopted, right?'" she recalls. "I didn't know what that meant, so I asked my mom, who explained everything by saying I was chosen by them and very special. My family made me feel so comfortable that I didn't even think about the fact I was adopted until I was in my twenties."
Curious about her past, Morell went to the New York adoption agency that handled her case and to the hospital where she was born. She eventually acquired her birth certificate and a non-identifying letter that described her mother.
Morrell continued on her mission to find Pierce, but since her adoption files were sealed, it was extremely difficult to get any leads.
"I had sort of given up when my granddaughter Kimberly signed me up for Ancestry.com," she says. "We then started on this mission together."
Kimberly Miccio, 32, says she has been helping her grandmother search for clues for the last 20 years.
"I spent summers with grandma, and she would always tell me stories about her big journey to find her mom," Miccio tells People. "So I helped her look online through family history websites."
It wasn't until September 2015 that Miccio found any definitive trace of her birth mother.
"We were contacted by Lena's family members, who offered to put us in touch with her daughter," she says. "When they sent over a photo, I knew it was the right woman, they looked exactly alike."
Posted by Kimberly Miccio on Monday, February 1, 2016
Morrell says she didn't believe it at first.
"It wasn't real for me until I saw her in person," she says. "I kept thinking, 'There is no way that both of us are still alive.' I also found out I had four sisters and two brothers. I had a whole new family that I never knew about."
Pierce, along with her two daughters, Millie Hawk and Carol Vanhorn, met Morrell, Miccio and Miccio's 2-year-old daughter, Lacey, in the small New York airport in January.
"We just had this instant connection," says Morrell. "I looked her right in the eyes and hugged her and smiled. It was like I had known her my whole life."
Miccio says the first thing Pierce exclaimed when she saw her long-lost daughter was, "Oh my baby! Oh my Eva May!"
"The reunion was happy and sad at the same time," Miccio says. "Just to know that she had been thinking of her daughter for all those years, wondering where she was and what she was doing… I just can't imagine that happening with my own little girl."
Morrell now talks to her new sisters every day on the phone and calls her mother a few times a week. Plans for a holiday to are already underway.
"Betty was so amazed and so, so happy," says granddaughter Miccio. "I think it gave her a sense of peace to finally know where she came from. She feels like all of her life's puzzle pieces are finally fitting together."
Miccio told People that she can't wait to tell her own daughter the incredible reunion story when she gets older.
"This is a piece of family history that I treasure and I hope to pass down the tale to future generations," she says.