MARTINSBURG - About 100 years ago, sisters Dorothy and Ruth Flick posed for a photograph. The young girls stood before the camera in dresses, each clasping a doll and the other's hand.
Not long after that photo was taken, the sisters would get separated and live the rest of their lives without reconnecting despite living only about 20 miles apart.
Flash forward to Aug. 11, 2012.
Sipping a cup of coffee, Altoona resident Joan Bergstein opened up the pages of the Altoona Mirror. Having flipped to the obituaries, she was compelled to read one in particular - Dorothy Bush, a Martinsburg woman who died at the age of 103.
The name did not trigger any recollection, but as she read further, the information began to fit into an age-old family puzzle, she said.
She remembered her mother, Ruth, who died in 1986, mentioned a younger sister named Dorothy who was adopted out of the family, Bergstein said. Her mother did not talk about her childhood much.
The obituary listed William and Mary Flick, Bergstein's grandparents, as Dorothy's biological parents, and it said she was adopted from the Williamsburg orphanage at age 2.
"A chill went through me," Bergstein said. "If my mother were alive, she would be 105. It was surreal, but all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit together. It was unbelievable that after 101 years, I would find my mother's sister, my missing aunt."
Although she did not have any ill feelings toward her siblings, Dorothy decided not to look for a family she felt abandoned her youngest child, her daughters, Janet Zimmerman and Jone Bush, said.
Although they wanted to reach out, they respected their mom's wishes.
A hopeful arrow was shot into the dark by including information about her biological parents and her adoption in her obituary.
Bergstein was filled with mixed emotions after reading the obituary, but went to the funeral for her mother's sake, knowing she would have wanted her to go, she said.
At the funeral, Bergstein, who wanted to confirm her strong feelings, was embraced and welcomed.
"They put the information in the newspaper about Dorothy's real parents and her adoption intentionally, hoping that someone from her biological family would show up, and I walked in the door," Bergstein said. "They were in as much disbelief as I was. They said it was a miracle, and I agree because I'm the only one reading that paper that the information would have meant anything to."
Bergstein looks like their mother sharing similar traits in her lips, nose and eye color, Bush said.
Dorothy and Ruth's mother, Mary Flick, who family believe was divorced from her husband, William, at the time, gave up two of her children to the Williamsburg orphanage in 1911.
At the time, a single mom had no recourse except the orphanage, a family member said. There was no Social Security or welfare to help.
Maybe she thought she would return for them one day, Bergstein said.
Luther Augustus and Emma Jane Johnson of Bedford County adopted Dorothy about a month after she was placed in the orphanage.
Ruth and Dorothy had a brother, Clarence, and sisters, Mary Belle and Mabel, and a half-sister, Pauline.
Clarence eventually went to get the sisters, but Dorothy was already adopted at that time, and so just Ruth was brought back into the family, Bush said. Ruth went to live with a grandmother.
Clarence and Ruth looked for Dorothy, Bergstein said.
Over the years, Ruth wanted to find her sister, but there was no tangible lead, she said.
The orphanage burned in 1975 and with it the records, the family said.
If Dorothy had known, she might not have felt abandoned, Bergstein said.
Gathered around the kitchen table in Janet and Joe Zimmerman's home nestled among trees in rural Martinsburg, the sisters share the discoveries they've made as they have gotten to know one another.
They all felt a connection right away, Janet Zimmerman said.
Their paths have almost crossed numerous times, they believe.
Bergstein's uncle worked with Floyd Bush, Bush's and Zimmerman's father. Dorothy shopped at the Meyer Jonasson store in Altoona where Bergstein and Mabel worked. Bush used to play cards with Bergstein's neighbor a couple doors away.
They keep shaking their heads in amazement, Bush said.
They are thrilled to have found each other, Bergstein said.
"She hasn't come down to Earth yet," Bergstein's husband, Jerry, said.
Bergstein sent emails to nieces and nephews to share the story.
"You can sure see the hand of God in this one," she recalled one of the relatives responding.
Future plans for the family include Bergstein as an honored guest at the Bush family reunion in March, and her sister, Patricia Hummer of Philadelphia, is planning a trip to meet her cousins.
On the kitchen table in front of the cousins were photo albums they made for one another.
"This is the picture that connects us," Joe Zimmerman said of the photo of the young Dorothy and Ruth holding hands.
Bergstein said while she is grateful to have found Dorothy, she is sad the sisters never found one another before they died. Abandonment haunted Dorothy, and never finding her sister haunted Ruth, she said.
"Maybe now they found each other and are holding hands again," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.