LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A strange discovery, made while a Louisville woman was excavating in her backyard, offers answers for two families.
A crowded driveway and family pictures scattered across the coffee table. The scene is set like your typical family holiday get together, except this one is a bit different.
It will be the first Christmas spent together for sisters Susan Lindsey and Tina McKinney.
They just met for the first time Sunday afternoon.
"We got a lot of catching up to do," said McKinney. "A lot of memories to make."
Susan Lindsey's father left her mother when she was three years-old.
“I first asked my mother when I was 18 where he was at and how I could find him, but she wouldn’t talk to me about it, so I had to leave it alone,” said Lindsey. “I didn’t have any tools back then, we didn’t have a way to find stuff as we do today.”
Only having a few pictures and an obituary from the Courier-Journal made it tough.
The obituary told her that her father, George Arthur Whitehead, died at 44 years old July 8, 1969. He was a World War II Veteran, survived by a family who she knew nothing about.
Lindsey was connected with her uncle, who gave her Whitehead's flag and a few pictures, but she lost that and the obituary in a fire.
Continuing to search military records and even joining the American Legion, Lindsey gained only a few more clues. She found that her father was honorably discharged from the service.
Lindsey came up empty handed for years until her friend, who had been helping with some genealogy work, saw a Facebook post.
A military issue headstone was found by Lisa Sharp, who had been searching for over a year trying to find the family, with no luck. Sharp dug up the stone when she was excavating under a shed. She said the VA had no record of Whitehead's burial or family.
Susan reached out once she learned the news. What happened next, is something you only see on TV, as McKinney puts it.
Tina McKinney is one of the daughters mentioned in the obituary. She’s Susan’s half sister. Their father died when Tina was nine years-old. McKinney said she didn’t know much about him either, and definitely had no clue she had other siblings.
"I was so excited and so nervous and when she (Lindsey) pulled up out front," said McKinney. "I thought my heart stopped for a minute."
Growing up just streets away from each other in Valley Station, the two families both had four children, some even shared the same names. They went to the same schools, although they are 10 years apart.
"We probably saw each other and probably didn't even know it," joked McKinney.
"We probably passed each other and didn't think to say hi," Lindsey joked back.
While sharing pictures of their siblings, it's hard to overlook the prominent "Whitehead features" they all share.
McKinney pointed out a picture of her late sister named Susie and said Lindsey looked almost exactly like her.
“It’s just God’s way of saying, ‘here you go, you lost one, you gain one,’” said McKinney, talking about her newfound sister.
McKinney says they moved when her father passed, leaving the headstone behind. It was never placed because the dates were wrong. McKinney always wondered what happened to the stone, but didn't expect it to be found in a completely different backyard than the house her mother left it at.
While they puzzled out the mystery of how the stone turned up where it did, the two half-sisters shared how happy they we're to find each other, saying they wouldn't ever call each other "half-sisters", only sisters.
"She's my sister and family means a lot to me," said McKinney, "If you don't have family, you don't have anything."
"I was in Florida until September and I believe that God wanted me to be here for this," said Lindsey. "I had no idea that I was going to find a headstone that belonged to my father and then find out that I had four sisters on top of it. When I found out that I have four sisters, I cried and I said thank you God, because it’s wonderful."
Both she and McKinney said they are already planning out all the summer barbecues they will have together.
The search is not over for the newfound sisters, however.
They still want to piece together more about their family. The genealogy work has revealed a family tree, neither knew the true size of.
McKinney and Lindsey say they are looking for Paul Whitehead, who should be around 82 years-old. He is their uncle and father's younger brother.
McKinney says she remembers he had children, her cousins, and they may be named Rita and Greg.
Anyone with any information on where they may be, email email@example.com.
Lindsey said she wants to work with the VA to move her father’s grave to a military cemetery and have a military service for him.