Half-sisters meeting face-to-face

Marti Layne and Jackie O’Brien are half-sisters who met face-to-face for the first time Jan. 4. They connected last year via Marti’s DNA sample on Ancestry.com.

It was a textbook example of hurry up and wait.

Stuck in standing traffic Jan. 4 because of a car accident four miles ahead, Marti Layne of Lake Havasu City was in a panic. After all her careful planning, she was going to miss meeting her sister’s flight at the Las Vegas airport.

“We were on this side of Searchlight. Traffic wasn’t moving. And Jackie had just called, saying her flight had landed,” Marti said. “So I called my daughter, who lives in Vegas. She rushed to the airport to meet Jackie in baggage claim.”

All’s well that ends well. Marti and Jackie finally caught up with each other at the Galleria Mall in Henderson. They drove back to Havasu and have been joined at the hip ever since.

First meeting, interrupted

Marti was rightfully panicked. Meeting her sister at the Vegas airport was supposed to be their first ever face-to-face encounter. The two women are half-sisters and share the same father. They only discovered each other’s existence last year because Jackie submitted her DNA sample to Ancestry.com.

Jackie lives in upstate New York. The two women connected through Facebook and phone calls. They learned they have similar facial features, deep voices and a love of quilting.

They planned to meet this month because Jackie would serve as an instructor at Quilting at the Lake, a week-long quilting retreat hosted by Havasu Stitchers, a quilting club. The club brings in nationally-recognized teachers to lead quilting classes. Marti is a member of the Havasu Stitchers and was instrumental in bringing Jackie to Havasu for the retreat. Jackie has been teaching quilting since 2006, mostly along the Eastern seaboard.

All smiles

When Today’s News-Herald caught up with the sisters last week, they were all smiles. The past five days together had been magical for them.

“Every time I look at her, I know she’s my sister,” beamed Jackie, commenting on their many similarities.

“My dogs love her,” Marti said of Jackie. “And you know, if my dogs like you, it means you’re all right.”

The two women enjoy sharing their inspirational story. Their fellow quilters were thrilled to be a part of Jackie and Marti’s long-awaited meeting.

“I’ve enjoyed watching Jackie’s style of teaching,” Marti said. “But most of all, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know her better. There hasn’t been one uncomfortable moment. Not one.”

The backstory

Over the past few days, Marti and Jackie have forged a solid bond that’s as impenetrable as the tight stitches on the quilts they make.

Besides DNA, the sisters also share dark histories wrought during their formative years. Their childhoods are best described as incredibly sad, which is remarkable given that the sisters were raised by completely different families at opposite ends of the country.

Marti and Jackie both had the same father. To Marti, he was Billy Williams. Jackie knew him as Michael O’Brien. Why their handsome but unstable father changed his name or whatever became of him is a mystery to both women.

The epilogue to the sisters’ story is that each one moved far beyond their rocky starts in life. Both Marti and Jackie went on to live full lives that include loving marriages, successful children and cherished grandchildren. Both remain engaged in satisfying careers and enjoy rich friendships.

And now, after 50 years, they have found each other.

Today’s News-Herald featured the sisters’ story in October 2019. Enter “Fractured family” in the search bar.

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