Cleveland woman finds long-lost sister after 50 years apart

Since finding her sister, April (right), Linda Burch of Cleveland (left) has been comparing their childhood photos, looking for similarities in their faces. All her life, Burch has been told she looks like her sister, with whom the family lost track when April's biological mom moved her to California.

A Cleveland woman’s search for her long-lost sister has come to a happy end with plans now for a face-to-face reunion this August.

All her life, Linda Lynn Burch, 49, has known of an older sister, April, 15 years her senior, from her father’s first marriage, but all her searches for information were fruitless until now. It took a DNA search through ancestry.com to provide the missing links.

Linda Lynn Burch of Cleveland has found her long-lost sister, April, after a DNA test led Burch to Missouri.

“Growing up, my two sisters and I were always told we had an older sister. The last time she was seen by any of my family here was when she was 2. Her mom left with her and moved to California,” Burch said. “It was my dad’s previous marriage and no one had seen her since.”

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Through the years, Burch had periodically searched for her sister, mostly using the limited information she had from April’s birth certificate.

“I had her birth certificate so I knew she was real. I knew she wasn’t a figment of my imagination,” Burch said. “I started looking for her when I was in high school. I even paid for an investigator to search for her once but every lead came to a dead end.”

Desperate for answers, Burch looked into DNA testing after seeing advertisements for ancestry.com.

“I thought I might track down my sister and also find my Native American heritage at the same time,” she said.

Tracing the Native American heritage turned out to be the easiest part. The $64 DNA test revealed that Burch’s fifth great-grandfather was Chief Red Bird of the Kentucky Cherokee tribe. Red Bird was a trapper who was murdered in the late 1790s. His well-documented history is published on multiple online sources where Burch also discovered that a tributary of the Kentucky River is named for the chief.

While it was an interesting find, her primary goal was still to find her sister. The DNA test linked to an obituary for her father’s ex-wife that listed April as one of her surviving children. The key was getting April’s complete married name, which was listed in the obituary.

“It said she lived in Missouri so I started looking for her there,” Burch said.

The search led to April’s other siblings on her mom’s side, including a brother and sister-in-law who Burch tracked down and messaged through ancestry.com. When time went by without a response, Burch’s friend suggested looking for them on Facebook.

“I found a younger sister and sent her a message. I sent the same message to all of them – that we have a common ancestor. I sent them the photo of April’s mother and was able to confirm the identity through a couple of them,” she said. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up until then because I wanted to make sure my April was their April. I said to them, ‘Please, I have been searching for her for 30 years. Please tell me she is alive.’”

Burch discovered that April is alive but battling lung cancer. The next challenge was getting April on the phone since communication is challenging because of April’s limited cell phone use. When Burch was finally given a landline number to call, she recalls hesitating for a few moments while she worked up the nerve to call.

Linda Burch used this photo of her long-lost sister, April, and April’s mom to track down her sibling after nearly 50 years apart.

“We were both nervous on the first phone call. She had no idea that my two sisters and I even existed. She was never told anything about us. She said she wondered if she had other siblings,” Burch said. “She went to look for our dad once because she had her birth certificate but couldn’t find him.”

Now the Texas siblings are planning a road trip to visit April in Missouri this August.  Burch also is looking forward to meeting her sister’s two children, and their children.

“I sent her some pictures of us and I think she is still in shock. I’ve been told all my life by my dad that I look like my big sister. Now I will get to finally see for myself,” Burch said. “My life is complete now. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”

Linda Burch found her older sister, April (pictured), through a DNA test through ancestry.com.

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