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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — This time last year, two local sisters were searching for their birth mother and half-sister. A year later, they are thankful for the new family — and big surprise — they uncovered.

Last December, Karen Mining Dobson and her sister Denise Mining sat in a car outside Cracker Barrel, and each held a DNA tube in their hand.

With nervous giggles, they did cheers with the tubes and then filled them with enough saliva to gather a sample.

Possibilities lie ahead, both good and bad.

With this AncestryDNA test, they could find their birth mother. They could find the half-sister, Silvia, who they had heard existed. Or they could find out they were not really sisters.

“We decided no matter, what we are sisters,” said Karen, 59, a sentiment echoed by older sister Denise, 62.

The Springfield News-Leader reports that today, Karen lives in Springfield and Denise in Strafford, but when they were 14 and 11, they learned they were adopted and had been born in Germany.

Denise first heard the rumor, so their mom confronted it.

“I remember the day mom came to school and got us out of school to tell us. I was scared. When we got home, she told us. Honestly, I was pretty broken-hearted because I loved them so much. I was heartbroken they weren’t our real parents,” said Karen.

Denise felt betrayed.

Their adoptive father, Samuel Mining, was stationed in Germany in the Air Force. He and his wife, Gertraud, a German native, could not have children. A chaplain at the base connected them about an unwed German mother who had given birth to her second child, the daughter of an American in the military. Denise, the first daughter, was in an orphanage.

Their birth mother, Barbara, wanted them to be raised together and raised Catholic.

Barbara kept in touch with the family and even visited when the girls were little, although they have no recollection of the encounter. Denise has no memories of an orphanage. Then Barbara married an American, also in the Air Force, and when he was transferred, the families lost touch.

But there was one item that always linked the families — a photograph of Denise as a toddler holding her baby sister Karen. The photo is displayed in Karen’s home today.

Barbara also kept the photo out in her home.

Among themselves, the sisters talked about the fact they were adopted, and they occasionally brought it up with their mother.

Out of respect for her, they never went looking for their birth mother.

And then there was the fear of the unknown.

“You wonder why no one is looking for you,” said Karen. “It sort of keeps you from looking for them because you wonder if they don’t want to be found, or if you will disturb their family.”

But unbeknownst to them, someone was looking — the half-sister Silvia.

She just couldn’t find them.

When the results from the Ancestry database came in, to their relief, Karen and Denise found out they were indeed sisters but had different fathers.

The results matched Denise up with relatives on her father’s side. She logged into Facebook and began to find cousins. Her biological father lives in Alabama and has six more children who do not know about Denise, so she has not contacted them.

“I never really thought about a father; I was always focused on mom and Silvia living parallel lives,” said Denise.

But with the results, neither of them found their birth mother or sister.

Then in May, Denise received an email from a woman named Renee Gurule Ward.

“She said, ‘You don’t know me, but were you born in Germany?’ I said ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘I think you’re my sister.”

Denise called Karen.

“I said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ She said, ‘I can be,'” Denise laughed.

Renee is Silvia’s younger sister and had decided to take a test through Ancestry to learn more about her ancestry. When she received her results, it showed Denise as the closest relative in the database.

According to a press release, in August the company surpassed 5 million DNA samples in its database.

Just a few months later, when Renee took the test, they found a link to the past.

The sisters immediately connected on Facebook.

Renee forwarded the results to her siblings, including Silvia Carver.

Silvia didn’t really read through the email, assuming it was just information about their heritage. Then on her mother’s birthday, she went onto Renee’s Facebook page to see what her siblings were posting and saw Denise’s profile picture was the photo of the babies that Barbara had always kept.

“I literally felt my knees going out from under me. The picture and the name was right here for me,” Silvia said.

In 1978, Barbara had confided in Silvia that she had given a child up for adoption and it always haunted her. For nearly 40 years, Silvia had wanted to find Denise. She was unaware she had another sister, Karen.

“I tried with the German consulate and it was like a brick wall. You could not get information out of anybody, you wouldn’t believe it. As soon as I found out about her, I felt like there was a part of me I needed to know about. I came up with nothing but obstacles. I thought I would never, ever find her,” Silvia said.

Barbara went on to have and rear four more children: three girls and a boy. Three of them live in California. Silvia lives in New Hampshire. Renee said she had heard their mother had given up a child for adoption but didn’t know if it was true.

Barbara is alive but has Alzheimer’s and lives in California.

On Sept. 14, Karen and Denise flew out to meet their siblings and birth mother.

“It was the culmination of a lifetime dream,” said Denise. “It felt so good to meet them.”

Even though Barbara has Alzheimer’s, she knew who they were, all the daughters echoed.

According to Silvia, Karen is the spitting image of a younger Barbara.

Barbara cupped Karen’s cheeks, studied her face. Then Barbara covered her own eyes and cried.

Barbara told her daughters, “It’s complicated.”

But they assured her, it wasn’t. It was OK. They have no resentment.

“I love her unconditionally; she gave us life,” said Denise.

And she made sure they had a loving home.

“You can see any day on Facebook what happens to children who are unwanted. She made sure we were safe,” added Karen.

In 1965, their adoptive father retired from the military and bought a farm in Creighton, Missouri, which is where the girls grew up. After Karen’s divorce, she moved to Springfield in 1989. Their adoptive mother had a heart attack and Karen was trying to care for her, so Denise uprooted her life in Memphis and moved to the area.

“We do what families do and pulled together,” said Denise.

The siblings are in daily contact with their new family now, texting, calling, catching up on lives missed. In California, their sisters took the day off, and they went out to eat and went shopping as if they’d been sisters forever.

They are talking about planning a family reunion in Colorado or some midpoint.

“It’s such a great thing,” said Silvia. “It really, really is. I love them both so much already. I am just so happy our family is all together, we are all in contact.”

While there was trepidation before they took the test, the local sisters echoed they are thrilled with the results.

“My whole life, I’ve built it up to be this amazing experience, and that is what it was. It couldn’t have been better,” Denise said. “It has given me peace. It changed my life and helped fill a void. It’s the best gift. You can never have enough family around you.”


Information from: Springfield News-Leader,