Imagine finding out that you have a long-lost sibling. Would you be excited to meet them, scared, or content to continue living life without ever connecting?
That's the decision that one woman had to make when she discovered a branch in her family tree that she didn't even know existed.
Sibling relationships are different for everyone
Growing up with siblings can be considered a blessing or a curse depending on who you ask.
Most people are generally thankful for the experience to grow up alongside a brother or sister.
Ancestry tracing websites have become quite popular
Thanks to ancestry tracing websites like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, people around the world are digging up their family histories in ways they never thought possible.
Sometimes, people are confronted with harsh truths that their families worked hard to keep secret for generations.
People are able to reconnect with distant or unknown family members
There are countless stories about people reconnecting with distant family members around the world.
Even more incredible are the stories from people who found out they had siblings they didn't even know about.
Two women grew up in adoptive families thinking they were only children
Diane Ward, 59, and Mary McLaughlin, 56, both grew up thinking they were born an only child.
The women had both been adopted at young ages and McLaughlin was raised in Detroit, while Ward's adoptive family lived in Pittsburgh.
The women lived close to one another when they were children
Coincidentally, Ward's adoptive family often visited relatives in Michigan and McLaughlin's adoptive family took frequent trips to Pittsburgh for the same reason.
The two young girls lived very similar lives quite close to one another.
They were actually siblings who had gone to separate adoptive families
It would take the women 55 years to learn that they were siblings and seek each other out.
Ward had always known that her biological mother gave her up for adoption when she was an infant.
DNA research would reveal the truth
Since she didn't know much about her biological mom, Ward had often wondered about her ethnic heritage.
In 2018, she gifted herself a DNA testing and a genealogy search through MyHeritage.com.
Ward was searching for her parents but never expected to find a sister
Speaking with People, Ward explained that when she "went looking for family members" she expected to find her mom and dad but "never thought of siblings."
When the DNA research results came back, Ward was connected with a potential cousin.
A cousin connected Ward to her potential half-sister
The cousin Ward was put in contact with directed her to a potential half-sister, which left her feeling excited and hopeful.
McLaughlin, 56, is a former special education teacher living in Arkansas. She unexpectedly received a message request from the MyHeritage website sent by Ward.
McLaughlin was skeptical when she got Ward's message
McLaughlin admits that when she received Ward's message explaining that they were half-sisters she was skeptical.
"I had been told all along that I was an only child," McLaughlin said.
Her relationship with their biological mom was more complicated
McLaughlin's relationship with their biological mother was much more complicated— their mother had attempted to raise McLaughlin.
One day she dropped the young girl off at the babysitter and didn't return.
Both women were curious about their family from an early age
McLaughlin recalls being curious about her family at an early age.
"From the time I was about 10, I started reaching out to the White Pages in my community, looking for somebody with the same last name — the paternal last name."
The women had searched for relatives using their father's last name
Since McLaughlin was looking for relatives who shared her father's last name, she never discovered that her mom had another daughter.
She said, "There's always been a curiosity there, but I never in a million years thought I had a sister."
McLaughlin completed her own DNA test
When the women connected on social media, their immediate bond, and "creepy" similarities were hard to ignore.
McLaughlin also decided to complete a DNA analysis herself feeling like there were too many "weird similarities, characteristics, biological and quirks and 'isms'" for it not to be a "biological thing."
The women were half sisters
The women's instincts were right and the DNA test confirmed it. They were blood-related half-siblings (meaning they shared a mom but had different fathers).
Learning that they had a sibling in the world was an overwhelming and emotional experience.
They immediately formed a bond and had things in common
"We talked for three hours on the first Zoom call," Ward told People.
"It was down to, what foods do you like? Where do you like to go? I mean, we have so many mannerisms the same. We have the same gestures. Our favorite food is Mexican."
They felt like 5 year olds again
The similarities didn't stop there either, Ward continued, "We're both absolute shopaholics. We both have the same very dark sense of humor."
"All of these little things that sisters talk about when they're kids. We were like 5-year-olds."
They had grown up close to one another
It's not surprising the sisters clicked so easily, after all, they had grown up relatively close to one another.
Ward says the conversation turned to "All of these little things that sisters talk about when they're kids."
They once lived 15 minutes apart
At one point during a chat, the sisters uncovered that during their childhood, they had both stayed in the same neighborhood in Michigan, in houses that were merely 15 minutes apart.
Although they never remember encountering each other face-to-face, the sisters have similar memories from their early years.
They have memories of the same places
Ward acknowledges that she and her sister were "basically just crossing back and forth most of our childhood."
"I have memories of my aunt going to one of the bakeries in Michigan and getting this certain Boston cream pie. And Mary knows exactly the bakery."
It's possible they frequented the same local spots
McLaughlin even suspects that the two siblings may have run into each other at some point, saying, "Maybe we did see each other."
"Maybe we were even sitting at the same ice cream stand. Who knows?"
Ward moved to the U.K. with her husband
The young girls individually embarked on their own life journeys that would see McLaughlin move states with her husband and children, and Ward move to Europe with her husband.
The sisters were separated by continents when they finally discovered one another.
They finally met for the first time in person in 2022
Ward currently lives in the U.K. with her husband Colin but recently made the trip to North Carolina to meet her sister and adult nieces and nephews in person for the first time.
McLaughlin described their airport reunion as surreal and overwhelming but "in a great way."
They have a lot of years to catch up on
The women say that their unexpected discovery has fulfilled them in ways that they never believed possible, helping to fill a void in their family that never felt quite right.
They now have daily phone calls just to chat and catch up on everything they missed in the last 55 years.
The women are both grateful for their adoptive families
The sisters added that they are both grateful for their adoptive families and the childhoods they were lucky enough to experience.
McLaughlin says "We are eternally grateful to our adoptive families and we love them."
Ward hopes to track down her birth father
Ward said that her next move is to try and track down her birth father, but she knows it might not be as great of a success story as she had with her sister.
She's still optimistic, saying, "Regardless of what I find, good or bad, I don't regret doing it."
The women encourage anyone with adoption in their family to look into their family's history
The sisters encourage anyone with adoption in their family tree to "give it a go." Meaning, look into their family's unknown past.
Ward says, "Then you know, good or bad. You don't have to wonder what the answer is for the rest of your life."
The women are making up for lost time
McLaughlin and Ward acknowledge that it would have been nice to have one another in their lives long before their mid-50s.
"I had other things in life to do and to achieve. And yes, I would have loved to have whined to her through two rounds of graduate school and two master's degrees and raising children," McLaughlin says.
Diane and Mary were on a course to meet one another before they knew it
The younger of the two sisters reflected, "I would have loved to have had [Diane] by my side. During those times, I wished I had a sister, and now I do."
Looking back, it's easy to see that Diane and Mary were always on a course to encounter one another. According to McLaughlin, "it wasn't the universe saying 'no,' it was the universe saying 'not yet.'"
They chat every day and are planning their next visit
The sisters are now choosing to embrace their time together and planning their next trip to see one another.
McLaughlin reflects, "As we enter the second half of our lives, now we get to do it together. And it's going to be beautiful."