Hillary Harris, 31, had always known she was adopted and yearned to meet her birth family.
“I always wanted to find them,” she told CBC News.
“It was always in the back of my mind and I knew that eventually I would search when I was ready.”
The wife and mother-of-one moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 2005 and obtained information about her blood relatives seven years later.
Hillary had gotten a packet from Catholic Charities which revealed her parents were Bonnie Carl and Wayne Clouse. “I also learned in that packet that my birth father Wayne had passed in 2010,” she told ABC News. “They included his obituary. In his obituary is where I learned that my half-sister Dawn [Johnson] was from Greenwood, Wisconsin, and was the Loyal Corn Festival Queen in the 80s.”
Using the information obtained in the packet, Hillary managed to track down three of her other half-siblings on Facebook, but somehow Dawn had eluded her. In an interview with PEOPLE, Hillary said:
“I was beginning to think that I’d never find her.”
One day, while Hillary was at home, she noticed a family moving in next door.
When she went out to greet them, she discovered some interesting news. “I learned that the woman’s first name was Dawn, her partner’s name was Kurt Casperson and that she was from Greenwood— the same town where Dawn Johnson lived according to the obituary I’d found for my father,” she explained.
“I told my husband, ‘Her name is Dawn— what if she’s my sister?’ and we both laughed and said, ‘No way.’ No way could that be.”
Despite their scoffing, Hillary didn’t forget the tidbit information. In fact, it stayed at the forefront of her mind. Flash forward two months later. Out of nowhere, as Hillary’s looking outside, she sees a package of shingles had been delivered to the neighbors— and on the tarp is written the name ‘Johnson’.
The woman was ecstatic. She immediately started screaming and jumping around the house before calling her husband Lance with the news.
“Her name is Dawn Johnson! It has to be her!”
“Well, that’s it,” Lance said. “We’re going to have to go over and talk to her.” Later though, when they approached Dawn to talk, Hillary was much too shy to ask about the woman’s family history. “I was just so nervous,” she told PEOPLE, “and I was worried about rejection.
“She must have thought I was really strange, staring at her to see if she looked like me.”
Later that night, Hillary couldn’t get everything off her mind. Pulling out her cell phone, she proceeded to text Dawn, asking her if she was the Loyal Corn Fest queen in 1983. “LOL,” the woman replied. “Why are you asking that?”
“I decided right then to go for it, and I asked her another question: Who is your birth father?”
When Dawn replied with the name ‘Wayne Clouse’, Hillary could barely believe her eyes. “I started hollering and freaking out, then I called her immediately,” Hillary said.
“We were on the phone for hours that night, crying and talking. Neither of us could believe it.”
Dawn, 50, hadn’t met Wayne until she was 18 years old. “It never occurred to me to ask if he had other kids,” she told PEOPLE.
“I was as shocked as Hillary was to learn that we were sisters.”
Nowadays, Hillary and Dawn are inseparable. “I love that she loves my daughter Stella,” Hillary told ABC News. “I love that she is kind and caring. I love that she loves me. I love that she is my sister and gives me advice. I love everything about her.”
Although the sisters kept their story quiet for more than a year, they’re now hoping it inspires others who may be searching for birth relatives.
“Our story is living proof that it pays not to give up.”
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Source: CNN via Tout