‘52 years worth of birthdays to celebrate’: long-lost siblings connected by DNA test

A Winnipeg woman never knew she had a sister — until she took a home DNA test a few weeks ago.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (191 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg woman never knew she had a sister — until she took a home DNA test a few weeks ago.

Now, Raelene Recksiedler, 52, is looking forward to meeting her half-sister (younger by 44 days) for the first time this spring.

“I’m going to get a Jeanne’s (Bakery) cake — how Winnipeg is that? We have 52 years worth of birthdays to celebrate,” Recksiedler said this week.

“And I said: I’ll also take you to Salisbury House — you have to have a nip. She said, ‘Someone will bite me?’ No, I said it is a hamburger.”

Helene Schmidt (left) and Raelene Recksiedler, have different mothers and share the same dad, Ray Kobold. (Supplied)

Recksiedler is set to meet Helene Schmidt, of Colorado Springs, Colo., in April, when temperatures become more humane for a person who hasn’t lived in Manitoba since she was just a few months old.

Schmidt was born July 16, 1969; Recksiedler on Aug. 29, 1969.

Both women have different mothers and share the same dad, Ray Kobold. He died in August 1987.

They also share something else: the genetic neurological disorder neurofibromatosis (NF). The disorder can affect the brain, nerves and skin, with tumours growing under the skin or on the body’s nerves.

“When I first talked to her I said, ‘Do you have NF?’ and she said she found out she had it when she was 18. I told her our dad had NF, and I have NF, too,” Recksiedler said.

“When I first talked to her (Helene Schmidt) I said, ‘Do you have NF?’ and she said she found out she had it when she was 18. I told her our dad had NF, and I have NF, too.” – Raelene Recksiedler

That’s when they learned they share one more thing: both women have two children, with one of each also diagnosed with NF.

Schmidt said she was given up for adoption by her birth mother to child protection authorities in Winnipeg and adopted by an American couple when she was six months old.

“They were from Philadelphia, and they came to Winnipeg and picked me up,” said Schmidt. “I lived in Philly until I was four and then (we moved) to California.

“My parents had always been open with me about my adoption. I’m aware of my birth mom, but that’s about all. They said my mother had other kids before me and probably others after me. On the birth records, it said my mother was ‘Cree Indian’ and father unknown.”

Helene Schmidt of Colorado Springs as a baby. (Supplied)

Schmidt said through the years she has been able to meet a half-brother who shared the same birth mother, but she had run into a dead end on her birth dad’s side because no one knew his name.

She said she learned about the genetic disorder when she tried to enlist with the U.S. military.

“I thought it came from my birth mother’s side, but my half-brother knew nothing about it,” said Schmidt. “It never crossed my mind it was on my dad’s side.”

Two years ago, Schmidt’s daughter gave her a 23andme Inc. home DNA test kit. It helped her find distant cousins on her mother’s side, including one who also lived in Colorado Springs, but nothing on her dad’s side.

That is, until December 2021.

“I got a message from 23andme saying I had new relations,” said Schmidt. “I checked it out and it said a half-sister.

“I put my phone down, and I picked it up again. It said she’s a half-sister, and the sibling was born in 1969. I thought how could my mother have done that? Then I thought it must be from my dad’s side.

“I couldn’t believe it.”

“I put my phone down, and I picked it up again. It said she’s a half-sister, and the sibling was born in 1969. I thought how could my mother have done that? Then I thought it must be from my dad’s side.” – Helene Schmidt

Recksiedler was having a similar reaction in Winnipeg. After messaging Schmidt, realizing they were related and being told Schmidt’s birth mother had become pregnant by an off-duty Manitoba Hydro worker in The Pas, Recksiedler went to see her own mother.

Raelene Recksiedler of Winnipeg as a baby. (Supplied)

“I said, ‘You know how you said you felt really sad because I had no sister?’ I told her, ‘Apparently, I have one.’ My mom said that was impossible,” Recksiedler said.

Recksiedler asked if her father had ever spent time away.

“She said, ‘No, the only time was in the summer of 1968, when your dad was laid off. He went up North to do work with Manitoba Hydro.’”

Recksiedler said her dad’s NF caused him to have surgery to remove a tumour on his hamstring in the mid-1980s, and the blood he received caused him to test positive for Hepatitis B.

Raelene Recksiedler of Winnipeg, at 15 years old with her father, Ray Kobold. (Supplied)

“It destroyed his liver,” she said. “Unfortunately, he died before he had a transplant.”

Recksiedler said her dad never admitted to an affair.

“He hid it very well,” she said. “We never knew.”

She also doesn’t think her dad knew he had another daughter.

“Helene asked me: if he was still alive, would he have been happy to see me? I said he would be so happy, he would have loved to have another daughter. I’m positive had my dad have known about Helene he probably would have wanted her and she wouldn’t have been adopted,” Recksiedler said.

“Helene asked me: if he was still alive, would he have been happy to see me? I said he would be so happy, he would have loved to have another daughter.” – Raelene Recksiedler

“But I heard she has had a great life, so I’m so happy for her.”

Until they meet, the two sisters continue to joke about their similarities.

Raelene Recksiedler is set to meet Helene Schmidt, of Colorado Springs, Colo., in April. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“We have so much in common,” said Recksiedler. “She sent me photos of what she’s having for supper and a few times we actually were having the same thing… It’s things like that.”

“It’s like we’ve known each other forever,” added Schmidt. “It is just really cool.”

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

History

Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 8:55 PM CST: Changes seized from birth mother to given up for adoption by birth mother.

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