Cassandra Madison’s eyes lit up when she looked down at her co-worker Julia Tinetti’s arm as the two worked side by side in 2013.
“Are you from the Dominican Republic?” she asked excitedly, gesturing toward Julia’s tattoo of the nation’s flag — one that she herself had too. Julia smiled. “I was adopted from there when I was a baby,” she explained. Cassandra stopped in her tracks. “Oh wow — me too! How cool!”
Chatting more about their upbringings as adoptees, Cassandra’s mind reeled. What are the odds that two girls adopted from the Dominican Republic would end up working together in a bar in New Haven, Connecticut? she wondered. But as the pair began spending more time together, forging a bond over their shared heritage, it began to feel like more than just chance that had brought them together.
“Do we look alike?” they’d tease the security guards and staff at work, showing up in matching outfits as customers confused them for each other. “You do! ” co-workers and clientele would agree.
“That’s because we’re sisters!” Cassandra would joke. But as she gazed at Julia, noting the strong resemblance between them, the questions began piling up. Could we actually be related? she wondered, her heart swelling at the thought.
A Shocking Revelation
Determined to discover if they were related in some way, the best friends sat down to compare their adoption paperwork, hoping it would hold the key to their connection. But when they discovered their mothers’ names were different, along with their birth cities and last names, all hope of them being siblings faded.
“Maybe we’re not sisters,” Cassandra said. “But we could be cousins!” Feeling in her heart that the two were connected by more than just where they were born, Cassandra refused to give up hope. But as years passed and the friends moved on in life, determining what exactly that connection might be seemed more and more remote — until Christmas of 2018 when Cassandra’s adoptive mother bought her a 23andMe DNA testing kit.
“I thought it would help you discover your roots,” she explained. Taking the test, Cassandra began to connect with blood relatives, who shared that her birth mother had passed away in 2015, but also that her father, Adriano, was still alive and well in the Dominican Republic.
Through a cousin, Cassandra was able to set up a video chat with him and her other siblings. Filled with emotion as she spoke to them virtually, she knew she had to do so in person too. In 2018, Cassandra made the trip to meet her family for the first time — and instantly felt at home.
But as years passed and she got to know her dad better, Cassandra still had a question. “I need to know,” she asked her father. “Was there another baby you gave up?”
Reluctantly, Adriano said that there had been — a baby girl. “Was she older or younger than me?” Cassandra asked. “Younger,” Adriano confirmed. Julia is younger than me, Cassandra thought, heart racing. I have to find out if this is her!
Friends to Family
Last January, Cassandra ordered another 23andMe kit and headed straight to Julia’s house. “Spit in this!” she ordered, holding out the vial to Julia at the door. “It’s going to tell us if we’re sisters!”
Not wanting to be let down, Julia felt unsure at first, but knowing how important it was to her friend, she sent in her sample. Two weeks later, Julia called Cassandra with the results. “I am your biological sister!” she announced in tears.
“It’s amazing,” Cassandra says. “The papers were mixed up, which led us to believe there was no chance we were siblings. But discovering that someone I was close to was my sister — it confirmed what I knew in my heart!”
The good news kept on coming for the sisters as they also discovered that Julia’s friend, Molly, who also did a DNA test, was their biological cousin.
“It’s been amazing and overwhelming,” Julia says. “I never thought to do any testing because I had a big and loving adoptive family. But now, Cassie and Molly and I are so close, I’m getting to know my birth family and we’re surrounded by all this love and support. So many of us adoptees struggle with our identity-but this reminded me that we are never alone and there’s always hope!”
Expert tips for tracing your ancestry!
- Interview relatives: Visit FamilyTreeMagazine.com, click “Projects + Ideas,” “Storytelling,” and “Interview Tips and Questions” for questions to ask your family about your family history, says expert genealogist William Forsyth. “Older generations are a great place to start in putting together your family tree!”
- Work backwards: “When you’re getting started building your tree, start with what you know: you, your parents and your grandparents, rather than going way back in time,” says Forsyth. “This is especially critical if your surname is common — you don’t want to spend a lot of time researching only to find you were chasing the wrong John Smith.”
- Search free records: “Scan public records and census records to find clues,” suggests Forsyth. You can also visit Archives.gov and click “Research our records” and sign up for free genealogy workshops to learn more tips and tricks.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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