ODESSA, N.Y. (WETM) – As children, their lives crossed paths dozens, if not hundreds of times.
They graduated from the same school, had the same teachers, and even knew some mutual friends. But Karen Arden and Korina Sherman didn’t know they were sisters for nearly 45 years.
“It’s almost like coming into a whole different world,” Karen said, reflecting on their decades-long journey. “It’s kind of really bizarre.”
Karen Arden (née Wager) was born in 1970 and adopted when she was two months old. Korina Sherman (née Wagner) was born six years later to Karen’s biological parents.
Growing up, Karen was aware she was adopted, but she said the times were different, so she didn’t talk about it much with her parents. Plus, she said she had a happy childhood with loving parents and a brother who was also adopted.
She attended the Odessa-Montour School District and graduated in 1988.
Meanwhile, Korina and her two older half-siblings (from her mother’s previous marriage) moved between Chemung and Schuyler Counties, but Korina ended up graduating from Odessa-Montour, as well.
“I even have this recollection… I was sitting in math class, and my teacher asking if I knew Karen Wager,” Korina said, though she added she “might have fabricated that”. Nonetheless, Korina said she remembered her teacher pointing out the similar mannerisms, physical characteristics, and last names of the two girls.
Karen recounted how she was often called Wagner instead of Wager, and Korina remembered sometimes being called Karen by accident because the spellings of their names were so similar. But still, no one connected the dots.
At one point, Karen and Korina appeared in the same yearbook, several pages apart, when they were in the sixth grade and kindergarten, respectively. The price tag on one of Karen’s yearbooks spelled her last name “Wagner”.
Karen passed her blood cousins and half-siblings—the siblings Korina grew up with—in the hallways at school and never realized it.
But the connections don’t stop there.
Karen said her adopted brother specifically remembered Korina’s brother from school.
Karen babysat for one of Korina’s close high school friends, just a few houses down the street.
Both their fathers were named Robert.
Korina said that when she got older, her father told her she had a sister, but he didn’t provide much detail. It was something both women wondered about, but they respected the situation and assumed their sister was living far away.
In 1995, Karen’s first daughter was born, and it prompted her to start searching for Korina.
“When you have a child, you have a connection with them that you can’t explain,” Karen said. The birth of her daughter made Karen think about what her own mother was like, so she headed to the Schuyler County Surrogate Court to dig up records.
However, Karen said a judge told her the records could only be unsealed if there was a specific medical reason.
“I was like, ‘Oh well, there’s my answer. I’m never going to know’,” Karen said.
Then in 2001, their biological father died, and Korina’s aunt told her she had a sister who was born at Arnot Ogden. “So that’s where my main search started,” Korina explained.
For 19 years, Korina looked through yearbooks at the library, put information online to look for Karen, and contacted numerous other women who were also adopted. “That was really interesting to just know their stories and learn their stories and almost every time it made me think, ‘Oh my goodness, this is it’.”
But without Karen’s actual birth year, it was difficult to pinpoint anything.
“I would just kind of go through these phases I’d think “Okay, this time is going to be it. I’m going to get somewhere.”, and just get so discouraged that I didn’t get anywhere,” Korina said.
She ultimately decided to submit a DNA sample to Ancestry.com in early 2018. And while she got several matched from distant relatives, Korina didn’t get any sister matches for two years.
Meanwhile, in 2019, a medical scare prompted Karen’s daughters to gift her an Ancestry kit with the hopes of finding more about her family’s medical history. After some thought, Karen decided to submit the sample in December 2019.
A month later, she got a notification that Ancestry had received her sample. And on February 9, 2020, she woke up to a notification that would alter the rest of her life.
“I’m a very early person in the morning,” Karen explained. “I get up on the couch, I’m having my coffee, I’m looking through my email. And actually, it came through a text message with this ancestry, and it says ‘You have a 100% match.’ I was like… Oh my god! This cannot be real!”
She immediately called her daughter who then prompted her to send a message to Korina and search for her Ancestry username (Korina76) on Facebook. She eventually sent Korina a message.
Meanwhile, Korina saw a notification from Ancestry on her phone saying there was a match. However, she didn’t think much of it and carried on with her day, assuming it was another distant cousin yet again.
So she and her daughter made a trip to Target. By the time they arrived, Karen had tracked down Korina on Facebook and sent her a message. When they pulled into Target, Korina looked at her phone again.
“I said something to the effect, ‘I don’t know who that is, but what if that’s my sister” She kind of looks like me.'” But again, Korina carried on with her day.
Later in the day, after she had dinner and went outside to play in the snow with her kids, Korina remembered the message and decided to respond.
From there, the sisters slipped right into place and the relationship took off. They found they had similar, quiet personalities and felt that a missing piece was finally in place. “I always wanted an older sister,” Korina said.
“Having all those details and people in common, it just seemed like ‘Oh, I’m just meeting a friend,'” Korina explained. “It was exciting, but it was like I knew her already.”
After spending so long looking for each other, their fears were washed away, too.
Karen said she was nervous to tell her adopted mother about her search, but she ultimately took it well. She was also scared that Korina’s family would want nothing to do with her, but both sisters were welcomed with open arms.
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Korina recalled meeting Karen’s adopted brother for the first time. “He said, ‘Well, you’re part of the family, too.'”
Since that first meeting, Karen and Korina have experienced birthdays, the birth of grandchildren, and the death of loved ones together, making up decades of lost time.
And still two years later, they’re continuing to find more connections in their childhoods. Even during our interview, Korina pointed to the photo of someone who graduated with Karen, saying she had worked for him at one point.
Korina even recalled times her mother would call her over to tell her something and then say something silly. Korina believes her mother, deep down, wanted to tell her daughter about Karen.
“It’s so hard to explain because it was something we waited so long for,” Korina said. “She reminds me a lot of my mom… her eyes, her hair… it’s just amazing.