Katie Ares, Leigh Ann Baglin and Scott McCreary each recall what they were doing when they discovered each other.
Adopted separately out of South Korea as infants and now in their 30s, Ares, Baglin and McCreary are full siblings — a fact they might have never found out if they hadn’t taken 23andMe DNA tests.
A Goodyear resident, Ares took the test sometime around 2016. It confirmed she is of Korean descent but made no mention of any siblings. So, she moved on.
Years later, while getting ready to go to Home Depot one Sunday morning in early 2019, she checked if her password still worked. It did — and there was a notification identifying McCreary as her brother. After a moment of not knowing how to respond, she reached out.
“I think I sent a message through 23andMe that just said, ‘I have no idea how you feel about this, but are you open to chatting or email or anything?’” she recalled. “And so that just kind of opened the floodgates.”
Meanwhile, McCreary, who lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, was doing a puzzle with his wife when he received word of Ares. He took the DNA test some time ago and also put it aside. But because he and his wife’s 23andMe accounts are linked via email, she was the one who got the notification — and “you could just see the look on her face,” McCreary said.
“I thought somebody had died,” he said. “So that was just crazy that day.”
Fast forward to last year, McCreary was at work one Friday, sitting at his desk. He randomly peeked at his 23andMe account again, something he would do from time to time, and there was another message — this time from a different sister, Baglin.
“I just pretty much said, ‘I have to leave, because I don’t know how to handle this right now.’ … It’s like every single emotion you can think of having all at the same time,” McCreary explained. “It’s very overwhelming.”
Baglin, who lives in Hainesport, New Jersey, was similarly emotional to find out about her brother and sister last summer. Ares was on a camping trip and did not respond to Baglin immediately, so McCreary was the intermediary who connected everyone.
“I remember my kids were out playing on the waterslide in the backyard and I just started bawling my eyes out,” Baglin said of getting her results. “And I was like, ‘What does this mean? Is it legitimate? How reliable are these results?’”
For Ares and McCreary, the initial discovery came at a perfect time.
“Luckily enough, I had connected with Scott early in 2019, early enough that he was actually able to attend my wedding in April of 2019,” Ares recalled. “And he actually walked my mom down the aisle in our ceremony.”
Unfortunately for Baglin, the pandemic posed some challenges. While McCreary has managed to meet each sister individually, Ares and Baglin have yet to meet face to face — and all three siblings have yet to convene as a group.
“Now we’re trying to figure out, now that everybody’s safe and we’re starting to travel again, we’re trying to plan for Leigh,” Ares said.
23andMe is a direct-to-consumer DNA genetic testing and analysis company. Through saliva samples, the company can identify information such as geographic ancestry, family trees and timelines, traits and DNA relatives. An upgraded tier adds a variety of health insights.
“With genetic testing readily available to consumers, we are increasingly hearing stories of families discovering and reuniting with newfound relatives, and of customers finding unexpected results in their reports,” the company told the West Valley View in a statement.
“Although 23andMe was not designed specifically to help people confirm parentage or find biological parents, our DNA Relatives tool does help people find and connect with participating genetic relatives. This feature is completely optional, meaning customers must actively choose to participate and are informed up front that by using the tool, they may discover unexpected relationships.”
Baglin said the subject of adoption has been a longtime interest throughout her life — and one that eventually led her to her biological father.
“I always knew I wanted to do a birth search eventually,” she explained. “So, I got around to doing a birth search through our agency, where they kind of go through your file and see if they can find enough to try and locate a family member. … They found our birth father in 2012, so I had just a tiny bit of correspondence with him.”
Thinking she had found all the information that was out there, she had low expectations when taking the 23andMe test. No one mentioned Ares or McCreary. But she saw a “good deal” on the kits.
“I did it for health reasons, but then obviously it was a really big surprise to all of us, you know, obviously a great outcome,” she said.
Ares, on the other hand, said that aside from basic adoption documents she had been given, and though she had some curiosities about her lineage, she hadn’t done any research. If not for an employer gifting her a 23andMe kit, she said she wouldn’t have done the test herself.
“I didn’t have any expectations from it,” she said. “I just thought, ‘OK, this is neat. It’s interesting. I wonder if anything’s going to come of it.’ And then the most amazing things happened over the next couple years.”
McCreary similarly hadn’t thought much about the subject.
“I had a very loving family growing up, so I never really felt like I was missing things from that perspective,” McCreary explained. “Honestly, it probably wasn’t until I found out about Katie and then Leigh that I really even had the idea of wanting to find — or maybe not necessarily find, but find more information about — biological family.
“So, I think it was good because I probably wasn’t even prepared for that type of information earlier in life.”
His wife, however, is “big into family genealogy,” so he had previously already taken a different genetic makeup test. The results? He is “100% East Asian.”
“I was like, ‘Well, I could have told you that,’” he said jokingly. “So we did some more research, found out that it seemed that 23andMe was a little bit more specific in the Asian cultures and ethnicities, so we both did that, figured, you know, whatever, and then it was probably about a year after I did it that it popped up and it showed that I had a sister.”
One long-lost full sister was shocking enough, but even more so was having it happen all over again with another sister.
“It’s just absolutely insane meeting these people that you’ve never known your whole life, but when you meet them, you fall right into place, just like you have been together the entire life,” McCreary said incredulously.
Now connected — and hoping to get together as a trio by the year’s end — the three siblings have a lot of lost time to make up for. It’s a strange feeling, Baglin said, to have so much to want to learn that you have no idea how to ask it.
“I think what was interesting for me is I felt like when I, you know, connected with Leigh and Scott, it’s like I suddenly felt this connection to a world … on a different level that I had never felt before,” Ares added. “And it’s not like I felt like I was missing anything prior, too. I love my life, and I’m so grateful for every opportunity, but there was just this deeper feeling of being connected and this really natural ease and comfort and vulnerability, I think, that came with just talking to Scott and Leigh.”