Linked across the miles

Through a DNA comparison kit, Kelly Burgess Warnock, left, and Lee Clouse Kinkade discovered they are sisters.

ASHLAND Lee Clouse Kinkade grew up in a loving environment with a family who cared deeply for her.  The fact she was adopted was irrelevant. She describes her adoptive family as her family, including an adopted brother. But she was curious about her biological parents. And she said she had always wanted a sister.

“I asked my mother if she would mind if I were to look for my biological parents,” Kinkade, who lives in Oregon, said.  “She said that she didn’t mind, but that she would prefer it if I waited until after she was gone.” Kinkade said she respected that wish in spite of her growing curiosity.

In 2018, Kinkade ordered one of the DNA comparison kits from the company 23 and Me.  “It was pretty simple,” Kinkade said. “I just spit in the tube and sent it back.”

The 23 and Me results gave Kinkade some connections and a starting point for her search. This led her to a picture of a third cousin, on her biological mother’s side, and she believed she could see a family connection. After speaking to her cousin, that cousin began tracking things down as well. She provided information about one of Kinkade’s first cousins.

Family found

“I emailed her, then called and we talked for quite a while. I told her the whole story about the family, and she had information about other cousins and family members,” Kinkade said.

The process of tracking down and contacting family members was both exciting and a little exhausting, Kinkade said. Some of her family were a little hesitant to speak to her a first, given current privacy and identity issues.

“One of my cousins thought I was a scammer,” Kinkade said. “I had to show her my birth certificate and a letter from one of my caregivers when I was very young.”

In the end, all of the family members she contacted eventually warmed up to her. Kinkade said she was able to discover some interesting things about her past along the way. Her biological mother had children both older and younger than her, but she was the only child who had been put up for adoption. She also found out she had biological brothers and sisters on both her mother and father’s side. In total, she has found nine biological siblings.

Issues arise

Kinkade said she spent a lot of time while growing up in Ironton and believes her adoptive mother and father knew her biological parents. So along with the answers she has found, Kinkade also has more questions. But she said  she does not fault her biological mother for putting her up for adoption. “I have had a great life,” she said. “and I love where I live and where I work.” Going forward, she plans to Facetime, and email and visit her new extended family a lot.

One of the sisters Kinkade discovered was Kelly Burgess Warnock of Greenup.

Warnock, a Greenup County native who now lives in Virginia Beach, said she too often wondered if she had other siblings.

“I had no idea I had a sister,” Warnock said. But she also took a DNA test, mainly she said because other members of her family were interested in it. But it wasn’t too long after she had received her results that she got a message from someone in Oregon.

Contact made

“I got a message from this girl who said that she had been born April 1, 1965, and our DNA results indicated we were very closely related. She told me she had been born in Ironton, and that her mother had been single, and had put her up for adoption. And the people who adopted her were from Ironton, too,” Warnock said the woman told her. Her adoptive father was in forestry, and they lived in Ironton for about three years before moving to Oregon.

Warnock said she initially didn’t know how to react when the woman messaged her. She said (much like Kinkade’s cousin) the thought of it being a scam crossed her mind. They corresponded for some time, with Warnock sending short messages with limited information, before she began to feel comfortable with the thought that this woman might truly be her sister.

“We went a couple of weeks without messaging,” Warnock said. “But then we began messaging regularly again. I even invited her down to Virginia Beach, but there were some health issues with family, and she couldn’t make it.”

Not long after that, however, Kinkade was going to be coming to Ironton. Her adoptive parents’ families were from Ironton, and her thought was that she would visit with them, and while in town try to meet some of her biological family.

“She messaged me and asked if I would be interested in coming in and meeting,” Warnock said. “I had originally planned to come in at a different time, but when I found out she was coming in, I decided to come in and meet her.”

Warnock said she’s glad Kinkade reached out, because she isn’t certain she would have attempted it herself. “When you look at the results, the one most closely related to you is on the top of the list,” Warnock said. “And her name was right there on the top. So I’m glad she reached out.”

Meeting in person was an eye opener, Warnock said. “Up until that point we had only texted,” Warnock said, admitting to more than a little nervousness. “And you get an idea of what a person’s personality will be like from texts, but I was way off,” she said with a laugh. “I figured out pretty quick that she was a lot like me,” Warnock said. “Pretty blunt with a touch of sarcasm.” Another pleasant surprise to Warnock was that, even though they had not grown up together, they were both tomboys.

Warnock said when she was growing up, she didn’t look like any of her cousins. Her mother, Warnock said, always told people she looked like her father. But after meeting Lee Kinkade, Warnock said, she finally found a relative who looked like her. “We resemble each other,” she said. “But she looks just like my dad and my aunt.”

The surprise of discovering, or rather being discovered by, a sister she did not know existed has turned out to be an altogether pleasant experience for Warnock. Kinkade has visited with Warnock’s mother and aunts, and they all get along quite well. And though Kinkade has returned to Oregon and Warnock has returned to Virginia Beach, they are still in frequent contact across the distance. Warnock said she looks forward to future reunions and the opportunity to make up for lost time.

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