Madie Gustafson-Barritt grew up in Yakima with two older brothers. Born in South Korea and adopted by Nancy and Eric Gustafson when she was only a few months old, she had almost no information about her biological parents.
She didn’t think much about it until she began to question the potential health issues hidden in her genes. A 23andMe DNA Ancestry Kit helped but also brought in many emails mentioning possible distant cousins. Madie didn’t pay much attention to the emails, deleting them as quickly as they came.
But a message caught his attention. And that changed everything.
On the afternoon of June 27, Madie kissed the biological sister she never imagined having – Melanie McCormick of Howell, Mich. Melanie and her partner, Tristin Llewellyn, and parents Lynette and Thom McCormick traveled to Seattle to meet Madie and her parents, her husband Trevor Barritt and their daughters Charlie, 6, and Olive, 3.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed their meeting. The sisters had been in contact since January 2019, after Melanie message Madie via 23andme when she got her test results.
For over two years, they learned more about each other through FaceTime and Zoom, texting and talking on the phone. But they knew from the start that their connection was real.
âOh my God, we have the same sound,â Madie said in a recent phone interview with Melanie. “It was the first thing.”
Answers and more questions
Madie, who is 37, was adopted in 1984 in Seoul and grew up in Yakima, where she lives. She knew little about her birth parents, “nothing other than a little bit of information,” she said.
“Nothing really significant. It’s pretty common,” added Madie, who received her 23andme kit from her mom for Christmas in 2017.
Melanie, 29, was born in Seoul in October 1991 and adopted on March 25, 1992. Her parents gave her a 23andme kit for her birthday to give her information about her health.
The lack of a medical history is common and frustrating for adoptees. Although she wanted a 23andMe kit for health reasons, Madie kept her profile open after getting her results. She started receiving emails from the company about DNA matches that could be distant cousins.
âI got used to it and just trashed the emails,â she said, thinking âthere’s never anything to be learned from itâ.
Melanie’s test results arrived in January 2019. When asked if she wanted to make her information public, she agreed. Almost immediately, Madie’s photo appeared with information that she was Melanie’s half-sister.
âI wasn’t looking for anything like it. It’s just the best surprise ever,â said Melanie. She sent Madie a private message on the 23andme platform. Madie thinks she received an email from 23andme about the match, but destroyed it out of habit.
Seeing Melanie’s message that they were sisters, Madie ran into the living room, threw the phone at her husband, Trevor, and shouted, “Read it!” She sent Melanie a message.
âHis message to me was OH MY GOD. I was like, thank goodness,â recalls Melanie. “You just don’t know how people are going to react to this.”
Madie had assumed that all biological family members would live in South Korea and that there would be a language barrier, so finding out that she had a sister who had grown up in the United States was a wonderful surprise. The biological mother they share and their biological fathers may be in South Korea, but they don’t know for sure.
âWhen we started talking to each other, we started to piece the puzzle together,â Madie said. “She was 32 when she had MÃ©lanie and she was 23 or 23 when she had me. We started to put together (our mother) she is the same woman.”
âThe dates have lined up,â Melanie added. The year matched her age and who she was, “Melanie added.” It’s weird because it definitely opened up a lot more questions about her. “
Their mother is “still a big mystery,” Madie said.
âObviously, she’s got us both. Does she ever think we’ve met? she said. “Does she think we passed the test (23andme)?” “
Although the pandemic has delayed their in-person meeting, Melanie and Madie appreciate the extra time.
âI’m kind of thankful for that time. We’ve been able to get to know each other a lot more over the past two years, so meeting in person is more comfortable,â said Madie.
âWe also spent Zoom family time with our parents and partners. It is much more meaningful and authentic. I am grateful for this time as well,â added Melanie.
On June 27, Melanie, Tristin and her parents flew to Seattle and traveled to Yakima. Lisa Tri of Lisa Tri Photography in the Tri-Cities, who has taken many photos of the Gustafson family, waited outside to take photos of Melanie walking to her sister’s front door.
“The first two days were with our families. We spent a lot of family time and ate a lot of meals. Your mother is the most hospitable person on Earth,” Melanie told Madie. âMy parents and Madie’s parents took a tour of Yakima. I met one of Madie’s best friends, as well as (her) aunt and uncle. We met all the animals and spent time with them. kids. It was really great. “
They also headed to Manzanita, Oregon to spend some time at the beach. In just over a week, the sisters “packed a ton of stuff,” Madie said. “We’ve been waiting for this for two years. We have to do everything.”
Melanie, who is a doctoral student in education at Michigan State University, has taught kindergarten and first grade – kids about the age of her nieces. She and Madie, a stay-at-home mom, have noticed several coincidences in their lives.
The two are the youngest and each sister has two older brothers. Their fathers are lawyers. Madie’s husband, Trevor, is Canadian, and Melanie’s partner, Tristin, has dual US and Canadian citizenship. Both sisters have Ragdoll cats. Madie named her cat Mochi, which is a traditional Japanese rice cake. Melanie’s cat is called Shumai, which is a traditional Chinese dumpling.
âThere have been times when we text each other and watch the exact same movie at the same time,â Melanie said. “Speaking to our mothers, we had very similar personalities growing up.”
They also like to see each other.
âWe have never had anyone in our families who looks like us. I grew up in a very predominantly white community and therefore be able to see some of my characteristics in Madie,â said Melanie.
âI think in a lot of families without adopted children, having someone like you is taken for granted,â Madie added. She thinks her oldest daughter looks like her. Melanie sees herself in Olive, she said.
Since they met in person, it’s more important than ever to stay in touch. The sisters talk to each other every day in one way or another, Madie said.
âLiterally every platform you can think of,â she said.