HOW I FOUND OUT I HAD A LONG LOST SISTER

Or: WHY I AM MORE CONVINCED THAN EVER THAT FAMILY SECRETS RARELY STAY SECRET.
  1. A few years ago, I started doing some genealogy research. I started with my paternal grandmother's line (my only living grandparent), mostly using ancestry.com.
  2. I traced her line back to 1790 using census records and oral history before hitting a brick wall.
  3. One of the most interesting things I found was the ethnic ambiguity of these ancestors (I am white). At censuses between 1790 - 1900, they were listed as multiple different races: white, black, "mulatto," "free colored," and "Indian."
  4. When ancestry.com announced they would begin offering DNA tests that would estimate ethnicity and historical geography of a person's ancestors, I was intrigued and curious, if a little skeptical of their accuracy.
  5. National Geographic also offered similar DNA tests which would give you that information as well as trace your mitochondrial or y-chromosome DNA and tell you the percentage of Neanderthal DNA you had. Cool, right?
  6. Alas, the NatGeo test was $300, and the ancestry.com test was $79 (with my coupon). Guess which one I chose?
  7. Now, the kicker is that ancestry.com will also let you know if you are a familial match anyone in their database.
  8. Cool, I thought. I had corresponded with some very distant cousins who shared a common ancestor, so I'd get to confirm the connection with DNA. How great is the 21st century?
  9. I took the test, sent it in, and in six weeks, I got an email that my results were ready to view.
  10. Excitedly, I logged on and looked at the ethnic make-up. Basically, super white with traces of North African. Didn't shed a lot of light on the ancestors' census categories. Oh well.
  11. So I scrolled down to familial matches. It organizes them by closeness of the relationship, so the first one I saw was a username that was just a bunch of letters and numbers with the match indicated as "close family - first cousin."
  12. Great! One of my cousins had done it too, I thought. How cool. I shot off a message: hey, this is Jennifer! Who's this?
  13. Once I'd sent the message, I looked a little closer and realized that even though the user hadn't connected a family tree to the DNA results, I could click on the username and view her profile. The profile did have a family tree. It was called the "S_____ C______ family tree."
    The title spelled out her name, but for privacy reasons, I'm using initials here.
  14. I had never heard that name. I opened up the tree and didn't recognize any of the names on it.
  15. Oh crap. I fucked up.
  16. I called my mom, who told me she'd never heard of a person named S____ C_____.
  17. I looked at her profile again. I realized I could look at common matches. One of our common matches was a third cousin on my dad's side.
  18. I texted my dad. I got back "let's have dinner tonight."
  19. I met him for dinner.
  20. He told me she was my sister. He had a brief relationship when he separated from my mother (they're now divorced). He knew she existed but had never met her.
  21. For the first time in 25 years, he contacted her mother, who told her. My sister had never known my father was her father.
  22. She friended me on Facebook. We messaged for hours that night.
  23. A few weeks ago, we met for lunch. And she is wonderful. Truly, amazingly wonderful.
  24. It's exciting. Scary and strange. But really, really exciting.
  25. So word to the wise: careful with those DNA tests. You might find out more than you bargained for. But if you're lucky, you'll gain a sister.