Martin McCallum was puzzled by an unexpected voicemail at 10 p.m. Tuesday, July 13.
“It was kind of weird,” he recalled. “I wasn’t quite sure what she was saying. It was something like, ‘This is Josie. I’m looking for Martin McCallum. If this is you, I’m your sister.”
It must be a scam, he thought. McCallum, 44, had a fuzzy memory of one biological sister, Maria, and that was it. Martin and Maria lived in the same foster home as toddlers, but Maria was sent to a different home when Martin was 3 years old and Maria was 6.
“I knew as I got older that I had a sister that had brown skin, as I did, and I knew her name was Maria,” Martin recalled. “But all I knew was that she was not there anymore.”
So who was Josie?
“I texted her with the famous stupid question, ‘Did you call me?’” McCallum recalled.
To his surprise, Josie knew about Maria. In fact, she told him, Maria was sitting right next to her.
He was stunned.
That wasn’t all. Josie sent McCallum a photograph of a man she said was their brother, Jerry. She told him about another brother, Philip, who was sitting next to her. Did he want to meet them?
McCallum couldn’t miss the resemblance between himself and Jerry in the photo. He knew he’d been adopted at a tender age — three months — but he had a good relationship with his adoptive family. He wasn’t looking for long-lost relatives.
But his sisters were.
Fast forward to a hot July Saturday, two weeks after Josie’s phone call, more than 40 years after Maria was parted from Martin. Four reunited siblings hugged, laughed and waved off mosquitoes in Lansing’s Reasoner Park as they gathered to tell their story.
They jostled for position in a group photo, goofing around as if they’d grown up together all along. They vied shamelessly to make each other laugh harder.
“Who farted?” someone cracked.
In the general merriment, it was impossible to tell who asked the question, let alone who farted.
Philip was ill and couldn’t get to get to the park that day, but he’s also part of the story.
One more sister, Janie Lou, has yet to be found.
All the siblings and their mother lived in Lansing most of their lives, sometimes around the corner from each other, without knowing it.
“It has been an emotional rollercoaster for me,” McCallum said. “I was set with my life at the age of 44. Now I get to see my siblings that are like me. I went from a great family to a great big family.”
Maria Gray squeezed Martin McCallum’s hand and didn’t let go for a solid hour as the siblings told their story in the park.
McCallum is a 26-year captain in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He grew up in DeWitt, moved around the middle of the state and ended up back in Lansing and DeWitt, which he calls “back home.”
He remembered Maria mostly from a photograph of the two of them in a hallway. “I was probably 2 or 3,” he said. “I grew up with that picture.”
Maria clung to her memories of Martin through the rougher times in her life.
“I remember getting sent to bed with no dinner for laughing at him,” Maria said. “He was eating with his feet. Apparently the parents didn’t think it was funny and they told me not to encourage him.”
Martin left his past behind with barely a thought. Not Maria. Holding Martin’s hand, she spoke quietly, as if she were in a dream and didn’t want to pop the bubble.
“I’ve had so many emotional problems dealing with the adoptive family we grew up in,” Maria said. “It’s been a real struggle, but I’ve always had Jerry with me.” Jerry calmly nodded from across the table. When Maria moved to her new adoptive family at age 6, losing touch with Martin, her brother Jerry moved in with them and they’ve been close ever since.
But she never forgot about Martin.
“I was looking for him as soon as I was old enough to use a computer,” she said. “I didn’t know he was my brother until after I left. Had I known, things might have been different. But I did not stop looking for him. I couldn’t. He’s my little brother.”
The matriarch of this loving set of siblings was a Lansing native, Magdalena Salinas, later Magdalena Herrera, who died in 2015.
Magdalena struggled to keep her kids with her. She had her first child, Janie Lou, at age 15.
Now and then, Josie would find her mom crying. She and her mother were close.
“I didn’t understand why, until I was older,” Josie said. “She told me she had other kids, and it was their birthday, or a song was playing that reminded her of one of them. She’d say, ’It’s Martin’s birthday. Another birthday I missed,’ things like that.”
Four of Magdalena’s children have the same biological father: Maria Gray, 48, Jerry Brian Gray, 47, Martin McCallum, 44, and Philip Herrera, 43.
Josephine (Josie) Herrera, 39, the youngest, and Janie Lou Salinas, 51, the eldest, have different fathers.
“Mom moved a lot and was struggling with her relationships,” Josie said.
The siblings have only a sketchy idea why Janie Lou, Jerry, Martin and Maria were taken away from their mother, and they aren’t inclined to dwell on that part of the story. (Philip, like Josie, was raised with his mother.)
“They said she was neglectful,” Josie said.
But Magdalena loved her kids.
“She hitchhiked, walked, did what she could to see her kids when they were taken from her,” Josie said.
“Whatever the reason, it doesn’t really matter anymore,” Philip said. “It matters most that we’re together now.”
‘I’m right here’
In 2016, after her mother’s death, Josie contacted the “Long Lost Family” show on The Learning Channel, but nothing came of it. She found some cousins and aunts on the 23andMe site.
“I wasn’t so interested in that,” she said. “I felt like that was a dead end.”
When Magdalena fell ill, she made it clear she wanted Josie and Philip to find their siblings, but they had little to go on.
“Mom didn’t get birth certificates because it cost money and she wanted them to have diapers and milk,” Josie said. “But she always remembered their birthdays and birth names.”
Philip started looking in the late 1990s, when he was in 10th grade.
“I didn’t know much about the system, didn’t have much money,” he said. He wrote to Troy Dunn, the author and TV personality known as “The Locator,” for help but didn’t get a response.
“We were looking for four people and the fees would add up fast,” he said. “It was daunting, and I was losing hope.”
The first breakthrough came in March 2021. By then, Josie had taken up the search from Philip and gotten a set of results from AncestryDNA.
The name Maria Gray topped the list of likely relatives. Maria had signed up and done a DNA test with AncestryDNA a year earlier.
“That was the first connection,” Philip recalled.
Elated, Josie messaged Maria at 11 p.m.
“I couldn’t wait,” Josie said. “I knew it was late but I had to do it.”
“I got her message at 11:15,” Maria said with a grin.
While waiting for Maria to answer, Josie found Maria on Facebook and TikTok.
“I was stalking,” Josie said.
She scrolled down Maria’s Facebook feed and saw a reference to a brother named Jerry Gray.
“What are the odds? We’re looking for a brother named Jerry,” she said to Philip.
“I don’t know,” Philip hesitated. He thought it might be a scam, but he was struck by Jerry’s resemblance to their mom.
“It’s there and I can’t deny it,” he said.
“He’s got my mom’s eyes,” Josie said of Jerry. “When I’m talking to him I don’t want to look into those eyes.”
Maria informed Josie via TikTok that she and Jerry were blood relations.
“That confirmed it,” Josie said. Maria had all the siblings’ full names and birth dates.
Josie burst out crying.
“My boyfriend woke up and said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s going on?’” Josie recalled. “I’m like, ‘I found my sister! And my brother!’”
Maria sent Josie an instant message: “I’m right here, sis. I’m right here.”
Like Martin, Jerry hadn’t been very interested in searching for lost siblings, he believes in “jumping in the door, 100 percent,” once it’s opened.
“I didn’t know if I was given away because I wasn’t loved or wanted,” he said. “After all of this happened, I realized I was 100 percent wrong.”
He said the feeling is “indescribable,” but he took a stab at it anyway.
“It’s like going to an amusement park. strapping yourself into a roller-coaster and enjoying the ride,” he said.
The next step was to find Martin. Maria told Josie she was in the same foster family with Martin for a few years, a long time ago.
Jerry suggested they try the name McCallum, the name of the foster family Martin and Maria had lived with.
“His name popped up on MyLife, the first on the list,” Maria said.
Josie was itching to text Martin, but first, she rounded up the expanding crew of siblings for support.
She called Maria.
“What’s Martin’s birthday?” she asked.
“August 1, 1976.”
“I think I found him.”
“Really? Can I come over?”
“I’m on my way.”
Next, she called Philip at work. Philip runs a business cleaning buildings.
“Maria thinks she found Martin.”
“I’m on my way.”
They met up at Maria’s house and made the fateful call to Martin.
“I was like, ‘It’s gotta be him, it’s gotta be,’” Josie said. “And it was.”
“It was quite an experience,” Philip said. “In less than two months, finding three siblings is a great accomplishment.”
“I felt like our heart was content and we could go home and rest for that night,” Josie said. “It was hard, because we were anxious and wanted to meet him.”
Now there is one more sibling to be found.
Janie Lou Salinas, born July 30, 1970, was taken as an infant, like Martin. Magdalena was 15 when Janie Lou was born.
“She was a kid herself,” Josie said.
Maria has tried numerous ancestry- and people-finding websites.
“I keep coming up with nothing,” Maria said. Obituary searches have come up dry as well.
But Maria is sure they will find her.
“I know she’s coming,” she said.
Kick in the pants
McCallum agreed to meet with his newly found siblings at a cookout only two days after learning of their existence.
“I was stressed beyond belief at first,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I can’t go to this. I just met these guys on Thursday.’”
His 21-year-old daughter, Loyalty, gave him “a kick in the pants,” he said.
“They’re my family too,” she told him.
“I had to suck it up,” McCallum said. “Once I saw Jerry, I was fine.”
“I’m the calm one,” Jerry said.
“He didn’t use to be like that,” Maria added.
As the siblings caught up with each other, they found out that they had all lived in Lansing nearly all of their lives, often within a few blocks of each other.
Maria learned that her mother and Josie lived around the corner from her, in the Churchill Downs neighborhood. Jerry lives in Eaton Rapids, just a few miles further south.
“I was going by her house every day, to and from work,” Jerry said.
“We were just all doing our own thing,” Maria said.
On Saturday, the siblings gathered at Lake Geneva in DeWitt to celebrate Martin’s birthday.
Unfortunately, someone tipped Martin off to Josie’s tradition of smashing cake into the face of the honoree.
“He got away from me,” Josie said.
Philip, having fought off his bout with illness, joined his siblings at the party.
“Ironically, I outlasted them all,” he said.
Philip admitted he had all but given up the search over the years.
“I’m a little bit in disbelief, a little overwhelmed,” he said. “There are several things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. One is the election of a Black president. Another is gay marriage. Actually, meeting my long lost siblings was the least likely on my list.”
At Saturday’s party, Martin suggested the siblings start a weekly get-together.
It was a striking turnaround for a man who thought his life was “all set” at 44.
“Come to find out, my mother had always wanted to find her children,” McCallum said. “Come to find out, I was really wanted and not thrown to the side.”
“I feel like Martin is going to be the sibling that keeps everybody together,” Philip said. “He’s really embracing what has happened. They all are. I see happiness in their eyes. I see a lot of relief and I see that they are looking forward to a lifetime together.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here