(KAIT) - A Region 8 man's life is a series of unanswered questions.
"I just never understood why they took them both," Clarence Jefferson said.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services split up Clarence and his two younger brothers, Milton and Thomas, when they were kids, and he has not seen or heard from them since.
All Clarence has to hold on to is their names.
He has no pictures from his childhood.
"Thomas was dark skinned like me and Milton was light skinned," he said. "Thomas is the one born with the disability. He used to have to wear certain braces, certain shoes. I mean I really miss them. I really do. I really do."
Growing up on a farm outside of Turrell, the three were inseparable.
"Oh man, it was really good," he said. "I especially loved when I used to get home from school and they would greet me at the end of the road. They were just so happy to see me."
But on one of these bus rides home when Clarence was in first grade, his life forever changed.
"Before I get to my house, I look and I never did see them this particular day," he said. "I got a real funny feeling in my stomach."
Turns out, his mother left his father, an alcoholic, and DHS had to step in.
The state sent Milton to live with a farmer, Thomas to live with a family and Clarence to live with his grandmother.
He never saw his brothers again.
"A lot of times just crying," he said. "Wondering why is all of this happening, what wrong did we do to deserve this."
Over the next 40 years, Clarence never gave up looking for Milton and Thomas.
"Everywhere I've lived, Ft. Lewis, Washington; El Paso, Texas; Peoria, Illinois; Arkansas, always looked for my brothers," he said. "Always. I've had people do this and do that and no one could come through for me."
Clarence said DHS officials could only tell him his brothers had been adopted.
Kate Luck, the DHS public information coordinator, said a judge seals all juvenile records.
"I can't think of an instance in which the judge would unseal that record without going through the registry process," Luck said.
The DHS Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry process would be Clarence's only hope.
Anyone who was adopted or has relatives adopted through the state can petition to be placed on the registry with an application.
Once submitted, it takes about three days to hear if there is a match.
It sounds easy enough but there is a catch: Clarence and both of his brothers would have to be on the adoption registry.
If not, Luck said there is nothing else DHS can do to unite a family.
There are currently almost 1,000 people on the adoption registry, and according to DHS records, there have been 19 successful reunifications since 2005.
"Obviously, life's circumstances may happen," Luck said. "In some cases, the relative may have moved out of state, doesn't know about the process, that kind of thing."
Clarence is gathering information about his brothers to submit an application but he is not hopeful.
"I sit at home here and I listen to my Gospel and I just cry my eyes out," he said. "I've always wondered about Milton and Thomas. To this day, I wonder how they're being treated, do they have any children, am I an uncle."
To answer those questions, Clarence is asking for the community's help: share his story to jog Thomas and Milton's memory.
"Maybe they remember us going to church a lot," he said. "We never had a car, always walked. We walked like two miles to church."
Clarence said maybe his brothers would remember their father's deep voice or their mother's singing.
"And say, 'That's my big brother there! That's Clarence!,'" he said.
Ultimately, Clarence hopes sharing his story will lead to a long-awaited family reunion.
"Oh, that would be so grand," he said. "That would be my birthday present, my Christmas present, my New Year's, my Valentine's, it would be all of that from the past 40 years."
So now Clarence waits, the same way his brothers did so long ago, hoping to someday see a familiar face.
"As I've gotten older, I know what I've missed out on," he said. "You can't change what happened yesterday, but you can go from right here and try to move on."
Clarence said he thinks about a reunion with his brothers almost every day, and it would not be anything too special.
He said it would just be three brothers reminiscing about the past, planning for the future and barbecuing.
Clarence also gave the following information to help find his two brothers:
- Milton was born Dec. 22 1967 or 1968.
- Thomas was born in Oct. 1968 or 1969.
- Their father was Horace Jefferson, whose nickname was "Frog," and their mother was Mattie Mae Jones.
- Both are now deceased.
- Their sister, Willie Mae Jones, died when she was 23.
- They also have another brother, Johnny, who lives in West Memphis.
- When DHS split up the family, the state sent Johnny to live with the Pollard family.
- Clarence and Johnny have kept in touch.
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