The unbreakable bond of sisterhood
Lillie Landaiche, an Ascension Parish animal control officer, always “felt” she had a sister.
Landaiche was only one of seven siblings separated from their mother at birth and placed in the Arkansas foster care system as infants. When Landaiche’s mother remarried several years later, her husband successfully recovered all seven children, bringing them to the couples’ home in the Baton Rouge area.
“Our mother had seven children, and we were all separated from her,” Landaiche said. “We all came back together, but our mom only met some of us.”
Prior to her 2002 passing from colon cancer, Landaiche’s mother shared a life-changing secret. She informed Landaiche that a child she had reported to the family as stillborn was, in fact, still alive in a mystery foster home, what she called “a safe and better situation.”
“I told her that I have to know this and asked if there was another baby,” Landaiche said. “My mother said that she couldn’t raise her and also put her up for adoption.”
This confirmed Landaiche’s lifelong feeling of unfulfilled sisterhood and prompted her extensive search for her missing sibling. She began posting on popular heritage or genealogy websites and making phone calls to adoption agencies all over Arkansas.
In 2004, she found a promising lead at Florence Creighton, an unwed mothers’ home in the Little Rock area. Landaiche discovered that an Arkansas law required a mother to name the child prior to beginning official adoption procedures, and an adoption agent at the organization gave her the chosen name, “Belinda Dawn Peppers.” Landaiche then updated her online postings to include the name, hoping this tidbit of information would procure more results.
“Things really began coming together,” Landaiche said. “The people I spoke with really gave me something to help in my search.”
In October 2009, Christie Smith, a young Arkansas woman, was told by her adoptive parents that her name prior to the family’s adoption proceedings was “Belinda Dawn Peppers.” Out of curiosity, Christie began running the name through various Internet search engines, eventually stumbling upon one of Landaiche’s posts.
Her first search result serendipitously linked her to Landaiche’s name. Upon further online examination, Smith located a dog rescue photograph of Landaiche published in The Gonzales Weekly Citizen.
“She saw my posting, saw my name and also began searching after taking down my information,” Landaiche said. “Then, she saw my photo in the paper.”
Smith was able to determine the area that Landaiche and her husband resided in, but because the couple maintains a private number, she was not able to secure a detailed listing. Instead, she sought individuals in the region with the same last name.
A number of days later, Landaiche received a phone call from her husband’s cousin and his wife in the area, inquiring as to whether or not she was searching for a sister by the name of Belinda Dawn. Smith had contacted Landaiche’s relatives numerous times via telephone and left her contact information.
“They said they received a call from a woman claiming to be my sister, and that if it was the truth, I should call her back immediately,” Landaiche said.
Landaiche “anxiously” phoned Smith, and she answered. Landaiche said she was astonished at how similar their voices sounded.
“This was all very new to me,” Landaiche said. “I sounded just like her.”
Smith revealed that she was currently living in Oklahoma with her husband but expressed interest in a visit as well as verification of their birth records through the Arkansas Adoption?Registry, headed by Coordinator Chanel Lewis, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We finally met in late October 2009, around Halloween, at Mike Anderson’s restaurant,” Landaiche said. “When we saw each other, we both knew we were sisters. We just had to be.”
The alleged sisters opened their birth records together after the meal, and they were able to officially confirm their relationship. Smith visited for four more days and subsequently returned home.
“I feel like Christie went back knowing she has a family,” Landaiche said. “Now, we talk almost daily.”
In June 2011, Landaiche orchestrated another family gathering, this time at Smith’s home in Oklahoma.
“Everything about locating Christie has been a bittersweet blessing,” Landaiche said. “I wish we could have shared her with my mother.”
Previously, Landaiche was the youngest of her seven siblings, but Smith has assumed this age slot, as the youngest of eight siblings.
“I enjoy her, I feel like she’s come home,” Landaiche said. “She’s my baby sister, and I’m happy to have her take my place as youngest.”
Landaiche and Smith recently discovered that there might be another sister, named Michelle, somewhere in the Arkansas foster care system. Both expressed concern over communicating medical records because colon cancer, the cause of their mother’s death, is often hereditary.
“We aren’t sure if she exists, but I’m going to keep looking,” Landaiche said.