Jan 12, 2019, 4:17 PM ET

DNA tests prompt a family reunion 52 years in the making

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In September, 2017, an Ohio woman named Erin Chatterton who never knew her biological parents received a birthday gift from her daughter and husband -- an AncestryDNA kit – and took the test.

Last spring, halfway across the country, a San Diego woman named Lisa Raessner took one as well, and the startling results of those two tests led to a remarkable reunion this week that was 52 years in the making.

Raessner was trying to puzzle together her heritage. While Chatterton said she "just took it for fun" after receiving the kit as a present.

Until Chatterton got a match, that is, and things "just snowballed from there."

Lisa and her sister Lori Webster are the daughters of Dick Leslie (née Webster) and his first wife.

After he and his first wife divorced, he married Karen Leslie and had two sons.

I was freaking out I was ready to give up, but it turns out it was just big fat secret!

So when Chatterton texted Lisa to say that they appear to match as either a “first sibling” or “first cousin,” the sisters couldn't figure out how that could be.

They turned to their father, but weren't able to get any details out of him, so Lori turned to her stepmother for answers.

Reluctantly, Leslie revealed that she did, in fact, have a daughter with their father -- Dick Leslie -- before they were married, but gave the baby up for adoption.

PHOTO: Erin Chattertorn with her daughter Haleigh.Erin Chattertorn
Erin Chattertorn with her daughter Haleigh.

Raised in a religious family, Leslie was kicked out of her home for getting pregnant out of wedlock.

At 21, Leslie felt like she had no other options but to give up her baby, the sisters said.

“It was a real hard time in her life,” Lori said her stepmother told her.

“She absolutely blocked the memory out of her mind, probably because it was so painful.”

Leslie agreed to take a DNA test that later confirmed Chatterton was indeed her daughter.

The news was stunning, and it prompted the sisters to organize a reunion.

“I was freaking out I was ready to give up, but it turns out it was just big fat secret!” Lori said.

It was a real hard time in her life. She absolutely blocked the memory out of her mind, probably because it was so painful.

After months of text exchanges the family finally met Chatterton for the first time yesterday in an emotional reunion at the San Diego airport.

“My stepmom had always wanted to meet her daughter, she just didn’t think it was going to take 52 years,” said Lori.

PHOTO: Lori Webster with her stepmother Karen Leslie. Lori Webster
Lori Webster with her stepmother Karen Leslie.

The heavily-anticipated meeting ended in tears of joy and big hugs.

“Part of me questioned why I was doing this, but I was really excited, and seeing them felt like we’ve known each other our whole lives,” Chatterton said.

Later this year, Chatterton plans to travel to Michigan to meet her birth father, who wasn’t able to make it due to health issues.

Understandably, her adoptive parents were uneasy about the meeting but Chatterton said she reassured them this “was just a cherry on top” and that she had no regrets about her wonderful upbringing.

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  • j tennum

    I can't get the relationship. Lisa's father Dick (appropriately named) had an affair with Leslie and had a kid that she put up for adoption (Erin). Then Dick divorced Lisa's Mother and married Leslie? Because Lisa and Erin are meant to be "first sisters", I thought that meant both parents were the same but I guess it means they can share one parent.
    Was that the relationship?

  • Quiet participant

    I understand how results of these tests can be unsettling, however I think it's so very sad when someone contacts a "found" family member, and is not welcomed into or as a part of that family. For someone who was adopted, and spent their entire life wondering about their birth family, to finally find someone from that family and only be met with a roadblock or worse, so very very sad.

  • William Bahr

    I used ancestry for years and was frustrated at the concept that you had to keep going to new more expensive levels to make any progress. That all changed when th DNA tests became available. As time has gone on I have found my fathers side. And last week found a living sister. It has been life changing.

  • Nala

    Im a retired only child of an only child who NEVER knew my family history - thank you ancestry - both sides of my family go back to the mid 1600's - they have a STRONG history of the military, judiciary and I WILL NEVER FORGET MY IMMIGRANT ROOTS