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How ancestry DNA tests reveal family secrets and reunited long-lost siblings

Chrysti Hogan, left, from Tennessee, recently met her four biological sisters who live on Prince Edward Island. As a baby, Hogan had been adopted and discovered her newfound siblings through a DNA test. From left are Hogan with her sisters, Angela, Carolyn, Catherine, and Susan.
Chrysti Hogan, left, from Tennessee, recently met her four biological sisters who live on Prince Edward Island. As a baby, Hogan had been adopted and discovered her newfound siblings through a DNA test. From left are Hogan with her sisters, Angela, Carolyn, Catherine, and Susan. - Contributed

On April 10th, we honour our brothers and sisters for National Siblings Day. Most of us take for granted those individuals we have grown up with or known most of our lives.

For some, however, meeting or even finding out about one’s siblings comes much later in life, and often as a surprise.

Take Chrysti Hogan, for example. The Tennessee resident says she always knew she was adopted. Born in Moncton, N.B., Hogan says she was adopted through Catholic Family Services on Prince Edward Island by a family in Washington, D.C. After she was told that her birth parents were from P.E.I., she always felt like that is where she is from.

“As an adoptee, I had always wondered about my ethnicity and about my birth parents – what they looked like, what their personalities were, whether they were even still living. But I had been told that records were sealed, and I couldn’t find out any information,” says Hogan.

Eventually, Hogan submitted her DNA to Ancestry.com, and it wasn’t long before her results were back and notifications about blood relatives started to appear.

At first, Hogan says, they were just notifications for distant cousins. Within three weeks, she was notified of a parent or child match. Since she had never had children, she knew it had to be her mother.

There was only a screen name in the file, but the woman had created an online family tree including four daughters – one of whom was not connected to her husband. That was Hogan.


Chrysti Hogan, from Tennessee, discovered a strong familiar resemblance between herself and her newfound siblings from P.E.I. She says having the sisters she always wished for growing up has made her very happy. - Contributed
Chrysti Hogan, from Tennessee, discovered a strong familiar resemblance between herself and her newfound siblings from P.E.I. She says having the sisters she always wished for growing up has made her very happy. - Contributed


“After several days of heart-racing excitement and a little anxiety, I reached out via direct message to ask for confirmation. I let her know that I wasn’t looking to disrupt her life, and would respect any boundaries she wanted to set,” says Hogan.

A few days later, it was confirmed: Hogan had found her birth mother. Her dream of finding a family that she looked like was coming true

"My life was like a puzzle with pieces missing, and I am now beginning to fill in the gaps," Hogan adds.

Soon, Hogan had another match – her half-sister on her father's side. It turned out there were four daughters in that family, so all of a sudden, Hogan had seven half-sisters she hadn’t known had existed.

Again, Hogan reached out, more nervous this time, as she wasn’t sure her sister knew she existed. It turns out she didn’t, says Hogan, but she embraced the idea fully.

"This side of the family was excited to actually meet me," says Hogan, adding that they invited her to visit P.E.I., where all four are living.

“As I walked into the waiting area and met my oldest sister, we both burst into tears and hugged for several minutes,” says Hogan.

"They all physically and emotionally embraced me, immediately considering me part of the family. They were so glad to meet someone who was also a part of their late father."

And there was definitely a family resemblance, Hogan adds.

“I am about six years older than the sister that matched my DNA, and there are 17 years between me and the youngest. But having the sisters I always wished for growing up has made me very happy,” says Hogan.

Hogan is thrilled she took the risk and sent in her DNA. Having made connections with both sides of her birth family has started to give her a sense of completion, she says.

"My life was like a puzzle with pieces missing, and I am now beginning to fill in the gaps," Hogan adds.

Long-lost daughter


When Trina Hartlen met her birth mother, Wendy Spencer, they showed up dressed almost identically. Unfortunately, Wendy died less than a year after connecting with her daughter.  - Contributed
When Trina Hartlen met her birth mother, Wendy Spencer, they showed up dressed almost identically. Unfortunately, Wendy died less than a year after connecting with her daughter. - Contributed


At the age of 17, Lindsay Maillet found out she had a sister she didn’t know existed. That's when the mother, Wendy Spencer of Middle Sackville, finally told her about her pregnancy at age 17.

"My mother found herself pregnant at a time when it was very much taboo for a young girl to be," Maillet says.

Spencer was sent from her home in New Brunswick to the Salvation Army/Bethany Home for unwed mothers in Halifax, where she gave birth and had to place the baby up for adoption.

"I always felt there was something missing, being an adopted child never having a family tree and never truly feeling like I had roots," says Hartlen.

Maillet knew her sibling’s birth name and often wondered about her, but the records were sealed and the only thing Spencer could do was allow herself to be found, should her long-lost daughter look for the information.

Her mother kept waiting and hoping to be reunited with her baby, Maillet says.

“It seemed so unfair to me at the time, but I understood the privacy of it all,” says Maillet.

Eventually, Maillet’s mother received the letter she'd dreamed of for so long: her birth daughter, Trina Hartlen, was looking for her. They eventually connected and decided to meet. When they met, Maillet says the mother and daughter were dressed practically the same.


Wendy Spencer is pictured with her daughters Lindsay Maillet, Shawnda Peters and Trina Hartlen.  - Contributed
Wendy Spencer is pictured with her daughters Lindsay Maillet, Shawnda Peters and Trina Hartlen. - Contributed


Soon, Maillet met her new sister, saying she was both nervous and excited at the same time.

The most incredible part for Maillet was how easy it was.

"I said after the meeting, 'Is it weird that it wasn't weird?' It felt very natural - like she had been there all along, like a friend I had always had. That was one of the most amazing things," she says.

Unfortunately, less than a year after the reunion, Spencer passed away, after only having a short time with her newfound daughter.

“We haven't looked back and continue to chat almost daily and be in each other's lives as much as it will humanly allow. It will always be a work in progress to integrate a shyer sister into a family of loud people, but we wouldn't have it any other way! She is one of the best parts of us,” says Maillet.

For Hartlen, as well, the reunion has been positive.

"I always felt there was something missing, being an adopted child never having a family tree and never truly feeling like I had roots," says Hartlen. "Unlike many horror stories involving adoption and reuniting, my story continues by developing love and a closeness to my biological family members."

Hidden truth

Laurel Taylor’s family story completely changed with a DNA test.

As someone always interested in history and genealogy, the Annapolis Valley, N.S. woman ordered a DNA kit after the death of her brother as a way of honouring their family heritage and discovering more about their Scottish roots. It was her way of dealing with grief and loss. Her daughter also completed a test at the same time.

“I can only describe that moment as being struck by lightning. - Laurel Taylor

Upon opening the results, Taylor saw her daughter as the expected 100 per cent parent/child match, but directly below her daughter’s results was a name she did not recognize. It listed the potential relationship as either grandparent/grandchild, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, or half-sibling.

Taylor emailed the person to ask how they were related. They responded they did not know, but wanted to solve the mystery, too. With both her parents deceased, Taylor could not ask for clarification, and no other family members had any idea.

After looking at the results closely, Taylor recognized her mother’s family names but did not see any family names related to her father. She did, however, see the last name of this half-sibling, and then realized they shared a father – but it was not the father Taylor had grown up with.

“I can only describe that moment as being struck by lightning. My whole body started to shake, and I was in shock. Absolute disbelief of this discovery. I never had a reason to question my biological truth,” says Taylor.

"Everything changed but nothing changed. I am who I am but now I know more of why I am who I am."

Taylor offers some advice: don't take a DNA test lightly, as it has the potential to reveal information that may have been hidden for years.

Taylor explained the situation to her family, including the siblings she had grown up with. Everyone was shocked.

Since then, Taylor has gained three biological half-sisters and two biological half-brothers and was able to meet her sisters before COVID-19 lockdowns. She has made contact with her new brothers but they have not been able to meet, although she remembers one of them from high school. Taylor says they are working on building a relationship.

“I love my family, but I always had a sense from a very young age I didn’t quite belong - thinking thoughts like maybe my mom brought home the wrong baby or I was adopted. I believe I knew on a cellular level something didn’t match what was presented to me, but I didn’t know why and now I do,” she says.

The focus, for her, has not been trying to figure out shared traits or physical attributes, but rather putting together a medical history.

"This has an impact on our children, as it changes their biology and family," Taylor says. "My hope is to combine all of the bits of me to create a new fuller understanding of myself."

But after her experience, Taylor offers some advice: don't take a DNA test lightly, as it has the potential to reveal information that may have been hidden for years.

"My truth had been a secret from me for 56 years. Now that I am aware of it, I’m not going to keep it a secret anymore," she says.

"Moving forward I want to introduce my brother to my sisters (who I grew up with). We all love to laugh so I’m thinking we will laugh together and move forward.”

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