South meets north in tearful reunion that was 70 years in the making

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – The anxiety of meeting for the first time melted away in tears.

“I love you,” they said to each, during a long hug.

Jean Celletti as a young girl.

Patricia Milliken, who lives in Memphis, Tennesse and Jean Celletti, who is a Johnston resident, knew about each other to a very limited degree. Their respective families just got a lot bigger.

Milliken was only a southern toddler when her mother gave up Celletti for adoption in Providence in the 40’s.

“I was 14 minutes old,” Celletti said. “My [adoptive] parents were great and I never knew anything else.”

Milliken found out about the adoption after her mom passed away.

“I’m sure it must’ve torn her apart,” Milliken said.

She tried to find her sister in the past.

“And I just kept hitting one brick wall after another,” Milliken said. “And it just came to nothing. So I gave up.”

A Christmas gift from one of Celletti’s 5 children brought the pair together for the first time this week. The DNA testing kit sent Celletti’s roots to an on-line data-base and Milliken’s daughter would soon share the good news about her mom’s long lost sister.

“I was always afraid my sister wouldn’t like me. And she does,” Celletti said. “And I like her. So, I feel good that my sister finally found me with the help of my kids.”

“And I knew I would like her. When I saw that face,” Milliken said. “I knew this is a neat lady.”

There was plenty of joy as they visited and shared stories, but Jean Celletti acknowledges the childhood pain of the stigma sometimes tied to adoption.

“When you’re a kid growing up,” Celletti said. “You have this feeling that even though good people adopted me that you weren’t wanted.”

But the room grew quiet when something happened as her big sister was answering a question about what their mom might say if she was still alive. . .

“I’ve thought about my mother when we first got up here to Providence. I thought there had to be so much pain for her,” she said, as the front door of the home creaked opened unexpectedly.

No one was there, and the relatives in the room made a number of conclusions about what happened.

“My mother just came in the door?” Milliken asked with a smile. “It just opened? Wow. How cool.”

Milliken did her best to help her little sister understand that their mother’s decision seven decades ago must have been gut-wrenching.

“I imagine it just ripped her apart,” Milliken said. “And I feel that my mother regretted her whole life what happened.”

Celletti smiled through her tears.

“I think I’ve come full circle now,” Celetti said.

John Crandall settled Westerly.

Miliken also brought some interesting news with her from Memphis. She had discovered that her mother is a descendant of one of Rhode Island’s founding fathers.

Elder John Crandall was a Baptist minister from England, and one of the founding settlers of Westerly according to her and a number history websites. And he was a contemporary of Roger Williams.

The southern part of this new family knew about the connection, but the Rhode Islanders did not.

Now both look forward to their new history.

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