Had her physician not suggested eating a vegan diet, Little Silver resident Dr. Melinda Wagner never would have met her long-lost sister.
After paying a private investigator more than $10,000 to successfully locate her biological mother in 1990, Wagner, who was adopted shortly after she was born, discovered she had a half-sister after her physician recommended that she use 23AndMe to find diet and nutrition information.
23AndMe is a website that allows an individual to purchase a saliva collection kit from which a DNA sample is collected, mailed and sent to a lab for testing.
In an interview on March 19, Wagner, 61, said she had a “burning desire” to trace her family origin. Wagner, of Melinda Wagner DMD in Red Bank, said she was ecstatic when DNA test results – originally calculated for nutritional information – showed a 26.8 percent genetic match with a woman from California.
According to the 23AndMe website, full siblings have a 50 percent DNA match and half-siblings share a 25 percent DNA match.
“I was always on this Earth not knowing where I came from. It was really an awful feeling,” Wagner said.
She said finding a sister, one for whom she was not even searching, completes her life.
Miriam Carmona, 63, is Wagner’s half-sister. Although they have different mothers, they share the same biological father. The siblings were both conceived in Israel before immigrating to the United States at separate times, Wagner said.
Coincidentally, Carmona was also using the 23AndMe website to research her family’s history.
“My father brought my half-sister to live in America at the age of 20. My father wanted to start a business in California. Of course it would be California because the area has a desert like Israel,” Wagner said with a laugh.
The women, who said they are “crazy about one another,” matched less than two months after Wagner sent her DNA sample to Labcorp for testing.
The siblings connected over the phone on Oct. 1, 2018. They have seen each other three times since then.
“I bought a DNA kit for $99 and in two weeks you can find out who your relatives are,” Wagner said. “I put in so much work looking for my biological mother … Look at how effortless (23AndMe) was. I got to know the entire side of my father’s family (from pursuing the test results).”
Wagner met her biological mother in 1990, but said her mother would not reveal the identity of or information about Wagner’s biological father.
“My biological search used to be done,” Wagner said. “I met my mom and thought I was done. (My mother) never told me who my father was and I didn’t care. You meet your mom and that should be it. After six weeks of (testing), I found and met my father’s entire side of the family.”
When the women met, Carmona introduced Wagner to her relatives and shared information about their late father with Wagner.
Wagner, who is married with two adult children, said her son, Matthew Rosen, 23, is studying music performance at California State University, Fullerton.
Coincidentally, Carmona lives in Los Angeles County.
“(One of my sons) had a burning desire to go to school in California,” Wagner said. “My son is a gifted musician with perfect pitch. My husband and I are tone deaf. We searched our entire family, there is not one musician on either side.
“When we went to (Miriam’s) house the first time, not only did she have a piano, and not only does she have perfect pitch, but she had a bass clarinet sitting next to her piano. My son plays the bass clarinet. That’s an obscure instrument. Her son plays the bass clarinet (too),” she said.
Carmona, a married mother of three, said she has used 23AndMe to research her family’s history. She said she is crazy about her new sister. Carmona said they share similar personalities and have the same interests.
Carmona said Wagner is “gold, just like our father.”
“Every single day we text and (this experience) has just been phenomenal. I owe Melinda three visits to New Jersey, but I told her I would not be visiting New Jersey in the winter,” Carmona said with a laugh.
After meeting for the first time at a California airport, Carmona took Wagner to a cemetery and introduced Wagner to their deceased father.
“I’m a psychologist so I believe in nurture vs. nature. I now know how strong nature is,” Carmona said.
In an interview with Christine Pai, the 23AndMe communications director, she said genetic surprises are a common occurrence when individuals submit a DNA sample for testing.
“That is the beauty of genetic testing,” Pai said. “Surprises happen on a weekly basis. People are sometimes gifted a kit and can end up finding their biological parents, for example.”
Pai said Wagner, who initially purchased a DNA kit to track her health, chose an additional testing feature that gives consent to scientists to perform DNA matches with potential family members.