TUNNEL HILL -- When Diane Warner stepped through the door Saturday at the home on Summer Road in Tunnel Hill, her brother Tommy Preavett hugged her tight.

"Welcome home," he said, with tears in his eyes.

Though they had been communicating by email, text and phone for several months, it was the first time the two met in person.

"This is overwhelming," Warner said. "I've been looking forward to this for so long."

Her other brother, Robbie Sharpe, said the feeling was mutual.

"We've been talking about this and planning it for a long time," he said.

Warner's mother Barbara put her up for adoption more than 50 years ago in McCaysville, a small town in Fannin County.

She is one of about 200 people known as "Hicks Babies," named for Dr. Thomas Jugarthy Hicks, a beloved, small-town physician who trafficked in black market babies from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s until he was arrested for performing illegal abortions and lost his medical license.

Warner's mother voluntarily put her up for adoption. But Hicks did not always get the mother's permission before selling her child.

"There were times he would tell the mother 'Your child was stillborn," said Mike Maloy, executive producer of a TLC documentary series on the Hicks Babies.

Hicks would list the adoptive parents as the birth parents on the birth certificate so there was no record of the real birth mother.

"Diane grew up thinking that her adoptive parents were her birth parents, and that was common," he said. "It was only during the late 1990s that Hicks' adoptions came to light, and people with McCaysville birth certificates started looking for their birth parents, but there were no records for them to go on."

Maloy is following Warner and five other Hicks Babies as they reunite with their birth families.

"This is actually our first weekend shooting," he said. "And it was so exciting to see all of these people gathered here. She hasn't met most of these people before, but they just opened their arms and welcomed her to the family."

The documentary will premiere on TV network TLC in 2019.

So how did Warner get from her home in Michigan to a family reunion in Tunnel Hill?

"It started with Ancestry.com," she said. "They offered free DNA testing for the Hicks Babies. There was someone in their database that I was matched to. Because of that I was matched to my birth father's family first. I met them a couple of years ago. Then I hired a genealogist to help find my birth mother."

Her mother died in 2004, but with the help of a genealogist she found her brother, Tommy. He underwent a DNA test just to confirm their relationship.

"But the first time I saw her photo, I knew she was my sister," he said. "The resemblance to my mother was there."

His aunt, Edith Hamrick, says the reunion with her niece was something she long wondered might happen.

"We knew about her. But we didn't know where she was or what had happened to her," she said. "I'm so grateful this could happen. It's just too bad that (Barbara) couldn't be here."

React to this story:


Trending Video