Courtney McKinney remembers what her single mother had told her about her father: "That his name was Charles and he was white, and [her parents] had a brief relationship and it didn't work out."
But she also remembers not believing that story.
As it turned out, McKinney was right to have doubts. When she was 16, she learned that her mom had actually conceived through anonymous sperm donation. Her mom had always planned to tell her, and McKinney says when she began expressing more longing to know about her father, her mom decided it was time.
When she was an adult, McKinney, 28, discovered she had a half sister, Alexandra Sanchez, also 28. Sanchez and McKinney are one of many families that have been expanded as a result of online DNA testing.
At a recent visit to StoryCorps, McKinney told Sanchez that she'd been eager to find family. "And then we matched," McKinney says. "So I messaged you. And I was like, 'Any chance that you had a donor as a father?' "
That message, Sanchez says, brought her to tears. "Hearing your voice for the first time was amazing, to say the least," she tells McKinney. "I always wished for siblings. That's the one thing I always dreamt of. So when we actually met for the very first time, when you ran up and hugged me, just — the feeling, the intense feelings inside, I just knew."
She knew, in this moment, that they were truly sisters.
But McKinney and Sanchez had agreed to take a more sophisticated DNA test to confirm the original results of the online test. So McKinney flew from her home in Sacramento, Calif., to Phoenix, where Alex lives, to meet for the first time in person, at an official DNA testing center.
McKinney says she remembers how the excitement of their first meeting, a lunch following the DNA test, drew the interest of a couple of eavesdroppers. "I swear one of them even pushed his chair closer so he could hear us!" she says.
Sanchez says she recalls thinking, "This is the first time I get to have a beer with my sister. I grew up thinking that I looked exactly like my mother until I met you. I remember us looking at each other and saying 'Oh, you have freckles!' And, of course, the smile and the way our chins curve."
McKinney was accompanied by two close friends in the initial meeting, while Sanchez brought her husband. Sanchez says, "I remember getting in the car, my husband said, 'I have a sister-in-law.' And I was thinking, 'Could this all be true?' "
"I just look forward to learning how to be a sister. That's such a weird thing to do at 28 years old," McKinney says, laughing.
Sanchez acknowledges it's a new reality they both have to grasp — as sisters. "We didn't get to grow up together," she says, "but we will get to grow old together."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Aisha Turner
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's Friday, so it's time for StoryCorps. Pamela McKinney (ph) dreamed that she'd grow up, get married and have kids - but it didn't quite work out that way. She wound up raising her daughter Courtney on her own.
PAMELA MCKINNEY: So what do you remember of the story I tell you about your dad?
COURTNEY MCKINNEY: That his name was Charles, and he was white. And you guys had a brief relationship, and it didn't work out. And I just really distinctly remember not believing it.
MARTIN: Courtney was right to be suspicious. When she was 16, she learned that her mom had actually conceived through an anonymous sperm donation. Ten years later, Courtney discovered through an online DNA test that she had a half-sister, Alexandra Sanchez.
C. MCKINNEY: So I messaged you, and I was like, any chance that you had a donor as a father?
ALEXANDRA SANCHEZ: When I got your message, I just started crying. And hearing your voice for the first time was amazing, to say the least. I always wished for siblings. That's the one thing I always dreamt of. And so when we actually met for the very first time, when you ran up and hugged me, just the feeling - the intense feelings inside, I just knew.
C. MCKINNEY: We went to go have lunch. And remember, there was like these two guys sitting next to our table totally eavesdropping? I swear one of them even like pushed his chair over so he could hear us. I remember thinking, this is the first time I get to have a beer with my sister. I grew up thinking that I looked exactly like my mother until I met you.
SANCHEZ: I remember us looking at each other and saying, oh, you have freckles (laughter).
C. MCKINNEY: And, of course, the smile and the way our chins curve. I remember getting in the car, and my husband said, I have a sister-in-law. And I was thinking, could this all be true? I just look forward to learning how to be a sister. It's such a weird thing to do at 28 years old.
SANCHEZ: (Laughter) It's something we both have a learning to do in. We didn't get to grow up together, but we will get to grow old together.
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MARTIN: Alexandra Sanchez and her sister, Courtney McKinney. Their StoryCorps interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "STEP IN STEP OUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.