- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Lisa Olivera shifted from foot to foot nervously as she watched the front door in Idaho Falls Regional Airport on Sunday.

“I’m not going to cry,” she said.

The 28-year-old Novato, Calif., woman looked down. Her hands were shaking.

“I’m freaking out a little,” Olivera said.

Then her voice grew hushed. “There she is.”

Wendy Garrett, 29, walked up to the double doors from outside. She’d driven more than 2,000 miles from Pennsylvania to meet Olivera in Idaho Falls.

As Garrett passed through the first set of doors, she made eye contact with Olivera. Tears came to the women’s eyes and Garrett rushed over to give her sister a hug. Their first ever and the first of many to come.

“Twenty-eight years is a long time,” Olivera said.

The sisters, who’d never met before, chose to meet in Idaho Falls so they could embark on a trip together to Yellowstone National Park. Neither had been to Yellowstone before and the idea of sharing a new experience as sisters appealed to them.

“We’re probably going to stay up all night, cracking (jokes) and doing what sisters do,” Garrett said.

Olivera was found on Muir Beach, Calif., about 17 miles northwest of San Francisco, when she was just four hours old. She was adopted into a loving family, but the mystery of her origins haunted her.

“It’s hard to put into words. I always struggled with my identity a little,” she said. “I felt kind of out of place, at times.”

Last year, she decided to try a relatively new service offered by Ancestry.com, called AncestryDNA.

The $99 DNA test allows clients to learn about their ancestry going back 500 to 1,000 years, as well as compare their DNA to others who have taken the test to find relatives.

“I honestly didn’t think I would find any relatives. I really didn’t have any expectations,” Olivera said.

Anna Swayze, AncestryDNA educator, said the database has compiled more than 850,000 DNA profiles of people in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom since the service was first launched in 2012.

“The purpose of (AncestryDNA) is to help people connect to others, discover something more that’s not in the written records,” Swayze said.

Ancestry DNA has allowed people to find up to eighth cousins, as well as aunts, uncles and even half-siblings.

“Full-blooded siblings finding each other is pretty rare,” Swayze said.

Garrett had been adopted through a private agency as an infant. She was raised in California and later moved to Pennsylvania.

Because she was adopted through an agency, Garrett knew a little bit more about her family history, including knowing that she had a brother, but she never knew she had a sister.

Her brother, Tim, last name withheld, reached out to Garrett a few years ago, but she didn’t stay in contact with him.

“I wasn’t ready to explore my biological family at the time,” Garrett said.

About six months after Olivera took her AncestryDNA test, Garrett felt ready to learn more about her past and took the same test.

In February, Olivera logged on to Ancestry.com and found a message from the service saying that a very closely related match, possibly her sister, had been found. She took a deep breath and sent this stranger a message through the secure server. Within a day, she got a response.

Olivera and Garrett have spoken by phone, text and email nearly every day since February.

They were born almost exactly a year apart, their birthdays landing in the same week in May. They share the same middle name, Anne. They both play the banjo. They both love photography, the outdoors and animals.

“I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, even when I didn’t know (about my sister),” Olivera said.

Garrett is moving to New Mexico to begin graduate school at Santa Fe University of Art and Design this fall. Santa Fe is some distance from Olivera and Tim, who both live in California, but all three have a lifetime of opportunities to come.

“I think everyone has a right to feel a sense of identity. (This experience) did reopen a lot of things I’d come to terms with, but not necessarily in a bad way,” Olivera said. “If I’d seen a story like this when I was young, it would have given me hope. I hope (our story) touches someone.”


Information from: Post Register, https://www.postregister.com



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