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Houston family connects with long lost relatives through historical letters

Genealogy site Ancestry premiered "A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson" to bring to light a family reunion more than 100 years in the making.

HOUSTON — As many of you celebrate Juneteenth, KHOU 11 News took a deeper dive into genealogy and descendants of the enslaved.

Following the Civil War, one way millions of African Americans searched for each other was by writing letters. 

Now there's a new Ancestry short film that tells the story of lost letters of Hawkins Wilson reuniting Houston-area relatives with other family.

“I'm standing on the dirt where my great grandfather stood on, where he probably cried, where he was afraid," said Kelley Dixon Tealer, Hawkins' great great granddaughter. 

Twenty-four years of enslavement, the man Houston natives Tealer and her mom Alva Marie Jenkins speak of is, Wilson.

RELATED: Watch full KHOU 11 presentation of 'Juneteenth 1865-2022: The Pursuit of Economic Equality'

“I do believe Hawkins was looking down from above,” said Jenkins, Hawkins' great granddaughter.

Hawkins was once a young boy in captivity ripped away from his siblings in Virginia and brought to Texas.

"Dear sir, I’m anxious to learn about my sisters to whom I’ve been separated many years,” Hawkins's letter read.

“And it just came alive to me," Jenkins said. "He was now a real person."

Genealogists said once liberated, many African Americans dictated letters to the "Freedmen's Bureau" in Galveston, desperately searching for their long-lost loved ones, like Reverend Hawkins.

“Who would've thought that he'd put those little pearls out there so we could trace back to him,” said Tealer.

Detailed gems that Hawkins dropped in his letter.

"By naming each and every individual that he remembered from his sister and his uncle."

But his letter never arrived.

They used genealogy company Ancestry's database to compare the names Hawkins listed in his letters.

“That's the power of this letter, because even though the county it was sent to was wrong the details, he had surrounded the names and locations put us in the right place today,” said Nicka Sewell-Smith, an Ancestry genealogist.

“You start to see birth certificates, marriage certificates, and then I started seeing the addresses where my great grandparents lived,” Tealer said.  

All of which led them to an extraordinary family reunion. Hawkins' dream delivered 150 years later.

“It was just so exciting to meet them, to meet someone that was connected to a person I didn't even know about,” Jenkins said. "Learning more about Hawkins and the things he's done...it's a complete story for me,” added Tealer.

It's a complete story for this family, but there are so many more untold stories like his.

“We wouldn't be sitting here today if he didn't just keep going,” said Jenkins.

You can watch "A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson" on Ancestry's YouTube channel or in the video below.

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