Half-sisters share their unlikely story of finding one another through genetic testing, and what they learned about their family history along the way.
Half Sisters Unite Thanks to DNA Testing
Published: January 27, 2021
Narrator: June Smith lives in New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia. In 2018, she takes a consumer DNA test, hoping to solve a longstanding mystery. She’s spent years searching for her roots. When June was 16, growing up in Philadelphia, the woman she knew as her mother revealed a secret.
June Smith: She said, “Your mother was a white woman.” And I said, “A white woman?” Which was totally shocking to me.
Narrator: Her biological mother’s name was Ann D’Amico. June has never learned the identity of her father. When June takes her test with AncestryDNA, she checks the box asking to be linked to any customers with whom she shares DNA
Though she knows Ann has died, there’s someone else she desperately wants to find. While digging into Ann’s life story, June learned that she’d given birth to another biracial daughter, who had a different father, a girl, named Joan Moser, June’s older half-sister.
Smith: I set out to search for her. And I would go on websites, I would do all kind of people searches looking for Joan Moser. But we could never come up with her.
Narrator: One day, June receives a message on her Ancestry page, telling her she has a new match with a close relative, a woman named Sigrid Gilchrist. She’d also grown up in Philadelphia, as the only child of a Black couple active in the civil rights movement. But at 16, Sigrid learned a long-hidden truth from her mother.
Sigrid Gilchrist Johnson: She told me I was adopted, that my mother was Italian and my father was Black. It was crushing. I had no idea.
Narrator: In the years that followed, Sigrid never connected with any of her biological relatives, until, by pure chance, right around the time that June tests with Ancestry, Sigrid does, too.
Ancestry reports that the two women, who share 1,641 centimorgans, may be first cousins. But June can’t help wondering: might Sigrid be someone even closer?
The two women agree to talk on the phone.
Johnson: She said, “I have three questions to ask you.” I said, “Okay.”
Smith: I said, “Were you adopted?” She said, “I was.” I said, “Are you biracial?” She said, “I am.” I said, “Would your birth mother’s name happen to be Ann D’Amico?”
Johnson: I said, “Yes, she, that was her name, my biological mother.” She said, “Are you Joan Moser?” And then I said, “That was the name on my birth certificate.”
Smith: I said, “Oh, my god, you’re my sister. You’re not my cousin.” We cried, and I just couldn’t believe it. I was on the phone with my oldest sister. Yes.
Johnson: It was just like we’ve known each other forever, one-on-one spirit feeling that you can’t describe.
Smith: Finding my sister gave me a sense of belonging. It gave me a sense of saying, “Hey, you know, we got the same blood.”
Johnson: ...but I do see…
Smith: …looks like me…
Smith: Look at the chin.
Smith: It’s good having an older sister.
Johnson: I don’t like being older, but it’s okay. I love having a younger sister.
Smith: She understands.
Johnson: Yeah, yeah.
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