On the 20th anniversary of their adoption, Emily and Erica Verkamp were ready to share with the world how they were able to locate their biological family in Guatemala.
The 21-year-old twins said they created a YouTube video chronicling their search to locate their biological mother to help other young people who might be trying to connect with their birth families and heritage.
Their story began on July 24, 2001, when they were adopted by Deacon Mark and Tracy Verkamp when they were 7 months old. Photos show their arrival in the United States, held by sisters Jennifer, then 11, and Bethany, who was 9, surrounded by an extended family.
Although they had a happy childhood, they knew they were different from the other children in their small community in Franklin County and Sacred Heart Church.
“We always felt different because we looked different, and there weren’t many people with darker skin tones like ours,” Erica Verkamp said. “Our personalities were different. We were quiet and shy and found it hard to fit in.”
Emily added, “We had our twin connection and are a part of one another.”
They found a company called Guatemala Locator on Google, and, in emails to the team, learned what documents they would need to send to assist them in their search. The Verkamps gave them a file with a picture of the twins with their birth mother, fingerprints and attorney information. When Guatemala Locator found their birth mother in Guatemala City Dec. 26, 2020, an employee took a video as he verified her identity and let her know her daughters were trying to locate her.
“She cried, and said she felt really guilty,” Erica Verkamp said. “I think she was just overwhelmed.”
At first, they communicated by letter. Neither of the girls speaks Spanish, although Erica has now decided to minor in Spanish at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith. Eventually, they did video calls with older sister Jennifer Verkamp-Ruthven, director of Catholic Immigration Services, serving as translator.
“Our biological mother, three older sisters, two older brothers and nieces and nephews were there,” said Erica Verkamp, a junior at UAFS majoring in music. “Everyone cried. I don’t remember what we all said. A lot of the time we just looked at each other. We haven’t asked her any questions about why she needed to find an adoptive family for us, or who our biological father is.”
“Our parents were really happy for us. They cried when we first met our biological family. Mom made a blanket with all our childhood pictures, and we sent it to them.”
Since that first video meeting Jan. 10, 2021, the twins have texted with their siblings and sent their birth mother money to buy her diabetes medication. An official with Guatemala Locator told them their biological family lived in the “red zone” of Guatemala City, and that it was dangerous to travel there. The Verkamps told the twins they could take a trip to Guatemala in safer times if older sister Jennifer, who has traveled extensively in Central America, accompanied them.
“We are very fortunate to have this life. Our parents provide so much for us,” Erica Verkamp said. “My parents said my birth mother only had a first-grade education, and my being in college is such a blessing. One of my dreams is that one or two members of our biological family could visit us in Charleston.”
Their mother Tracy Verkamp is happy for them.
“For years, I wondered if they would want to learn about their biological family,” she said, “and I was very supportive of their finding them. It has made a positive impact on them.”
Emily Verkamp, a nail technician at a local salon, agreed.
“As we sent pictures back and forth with our biological family and saw we looked the same, we finally felt comfortable feeling different,” she said.
Watch their story on YouTube at https://bit.ly/verkamps.
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