St. Louis teen finds sister adopted in Canada through DNA test

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ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis teenager took a 23&Me test years ago when she was in elementary school and later discovered her biological sister living in Canada with their adopted parents.

Lia Emry, a St. Louis teen adopted at birth, took a 23&Me test in elementary school to uncover her roots and heritage.

“I’ve always shied away from my Asian heritage. My mom is white, and [we live] in a predominantly white area,” Lia said. She also noted that most of her school peers were white, making her feel like the odd one out.

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“I was adopted at nine months old, abandoned at birth, with no recollection of my family or any previous health information,” Lia said. “My mom was very open about my adoption; it wasn’t a secret. It was obvious. We don’t look alike at all. She’s white, and I’m not.”

“I saw a documentary, The Dying Rooms, and was just drawn to those babies,” said Dee Dee Emry, Lia’s mother. The Dying Rooms is a 1995 documentary about some orphanages in China that have “dying rooms” where they leave baby girls to die. “The thought stayed with me for years until I decided I was going to do it.”

Since neither Dee Dee nor Lia knew anything about Lia’s heritage, they decided to purchase a 23&Me DNA test. They took the DNA test when she was seven or eight years old to learn about her heritage and check for any preexisting health issues.

Lia doesn’t recall the test but remembers it coming in a tube. They followed the instructions and sent the DNA sample back.

“I found out about my sister when I was a high school sophomore,” Lia, now 17, revealed. “We weren’t actively looking for family members at that time.” Although she received notifications from distant relatives on the app, they were mostly third cousins.

When the notification about a sister in Canada came, Lia’s mother was more excited than she was.

“The night I found out, I was out with friends, and my mom picked me up because I couldn’t drive yet. I was at Top Golf,” Lia said. “On the way home, my mom got a notification, and I said, ‘OK, we always get notifications.’” Lia’s mom then shared the news about her sister.

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“I am so thrilled. She is an only child, so finding a sister was something beyond what I hoped for. You hear about things like that happening, but they never happen to you! Just to hear her tell people in casual conversation that she has a sister,” said Dee Dee Emry. “It still catches me off guard, but I know it’s given her a connection I never dreamed she would have.”

Lia discovered that her sister, named Jayden, who had the same biological parents, had also taken a DNA test on 23&Me and was living in Canada.

“She was abandoned at birth as well, and we found out she had a note from our biological parents,” Lia said. The note, written in Mandarin, asked for someone to give her sister a good life but didn’t explain why they were giving her up or who they were.

“We started sending baby pictures and comparing everything, and our moms got in touch too, talking about having adopted children,” Lia shared. They had their first Zoom call, and although Lia felt a little awkward initially, the awkwardness eventually faded.

They even visited Jayden in Canada during Canadian Thanksgiving. Lia and Jayden looked alike, shared the same height and weight, and, ironically, both had blond highlights in their hair when they first met.

“Meeting my biological sister Lia face-to-face was an exciting yet nerve-racking experience, especially both being shy to new situations. It was so fun to discover our shared facial features and similar taste in clothing,” said Jayden. “I’m grateful she could explore my hometown to see how I’ve grown up and my hobbies.”  

“After a while, everyone warmed up to each other. It went great, and Jayden and I talked. Everyone noticed how similar we were,” Lia said.

“We keep track of each other through social media, but I think with the girls being this old, it’s kind of up to them now. I wanted to make the trip to meet them and start that relationship- which we did- and whatever they decide to do with it from here is for Lia and Jayden to create,” said Dee Dee.

Lia continues to stay in touch with her sister, even though Jayden is currently in college pursuing a career as a farm vet, while Lia plans to become a journalist after graduating high school.

“Since our in-person meeting, we’ve maintained daily contact on Snapchat. We are planning a trip together this year, with hopes of visiting her hometown as well,” said Jayden.  

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