It was 2 p.m. Saturday when Alissa Broughton met the half-sister she never knew existed.
Broughton, 35, and Jesse Bablitch, 28, greeted each other with an embrace yesterday afternoon in Riverside Park’s Friendship Garden, having learned of each other’s identities just 10 weeks ago.
Adopted as an infant through Catholic Charities in La Crosse, Broughton had just four paragraphs on information on her birth parents, and, while there was always a hint of curiosity, she didn’t put much thought into her background, happily and lovingly raised by Bob and Sandy Warish with her adoptive older brother.
It wasn’t until Broughton, a nurse, and spouse Art began having children that she felt the need for more information, concerned she couldn’t compile a medical history.
Still, she didn’t pursue the issue until about six months ago, when a doctor she worked with recommended a DNA test, having done so himself.
Broughton talked with her adoptive mother, finding she was supportive, and sent in her DNA in January 2018.
Broughton had no idea that just four months earlier Bablitch, a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, had tested her DNA through the same company, 23andMe, having learned a decade ago she had a half-sister but unable to track her down.
“I didn’t know where to start,” Bablitch said.
Both woman opted to have their names shared with DNA matches, Broughton surmising that her birth mother, who had her at 16, likely went on to have other children.
Learning Bablitch was more than a 25 percent DNA match was overwhelming, Broughton said. She reached out to her half-sister on Facebook, the pair messaging back and forth for months and realizing they lived just 2½ hours apart, with Broughton based in Stanley, Wis.
“It was exciting,” Bablitch said. “I was able to find out her name and who she was.”
Through their conversations, Bablitch revealed they shared two half-brothers, Jeremy, 29, of Milwaukee, and Jacob, 32, of Walworth. After Bablitch and the boys were removed from their birth mother’s home as toddlers, they entered foster care and were officially adopted together by a couple in Milwaukee, who had three other children, when Bablitch was 5.
The four half-siblings have different fathers, Broughton’s having died in 2011.
Their mother has largely rejected contact with her children but responded when Broughton emailed her shortly after connecting with Bablitch.
Within days, she first spoke by phone with her half-brothers and maternal grandparents, who live in La Crosse.
“It was all in one week,” Broughton said. “It was like, ‘What do you do with all these emotions?’”
The half-sisters were tickled to realize that Broughton had named each of her children, ages 11, 10 and 8, with “J” monikers, same as her half-siblings, and that they shared a love for animals.
In La Crosse for the weekend, Broughton had plans to meet her half-brothers, paternal cousins and maternal grandparents today, having made a album for the latter, filled with photos chronicling her life from birth to present.
“They had no pictures of me,” Broughton said. “They’ll see all the hair stages — I took out one mullet picture that wasn’t good!”
With Art, her children and foster child all overjoyed to have new family, Broughton hopes they can all connect and develop a relationship. But Saturday belonged to her and Bablitch, the two forever bonded not just by genetics but their shared stories of adoption and the fateful connection they made on April 21.
“We’re going to talk about everything,” Broughton said. “We know nothing — we have 30 years to catch up on.”