Christine Courtwright on her graduation day (left), her father's photo is in the center, and her half-sister is on the right.
Christine Courtwright on her graduation day (left), her father's photo is in the center, and her half-sister is on the right.
Courtesy of Christine Courtwright

DNA Test Helps Florida Woman Find Long-Lost Half Sister

Today, April 30, is the last day to apply for a free DNA test with an Israeli genealogy company that wants to help adoptees learn more about their birth families.

Last year the company, MyHeritage.com, gave out 15,000 DNA test kits. This year, it aims to distribute another 5,000. The idea, according to spokesman Rafi Mendelsohn, is to bring together families separated by policies that require adoption files be closed (as is the case in Florida) — or where extralegal adoptions are common. "There are tens of thousands of people whose adoption papers are closed," he says. "A woman who was 99 years old in California found a brother in Germany through our program."

One Florida connection relates to Christine Courtwright, who lives in The Villages, a Central Florida retirement community. After taking a DNA test, she ended up connecting with Liz Cuccinello, a half sister whom she didn't know existed. Her father had Cucinello before marrying Courtwright's mother. Cucinello was then adopted in some sort of extralegal agreement.

When they met, Courtwright was delighted to see both were under 5 feet tall, a characteristic she says many women in the family share. "It’s a genetic thing that really confirms who we are," Courtwright says.

Later this year, the two plan to meet up in Washington, D.C. and then go on a cruise with their husbands. "We both wanted to have a sister and now we have one," Courtwright says.

MyHeritage spokesman Mendelsohn says the free DNA test kits are not a publicity stunt — even though large databases are the key to the burgeoning DNA business. The company is not the largest purveyor of DNA records, but it is among the most international, with materials translated into 42 languages. "We wanted to put our money where our mouth is," Mendelsohn says. The tests usually cost about $70.

To sign up, visit the company's DNA Quest website.

Another way to find adopted family members is through the state's adoption registry.

News editor Jessica Lipscomb contributed to this report.   

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