Sisters reunite after 75 years thanks to DNA test: 'This is forever'

Jackie Murphy had previously tried to find Suzan Baekkelund, but had no luck.

October 23, 2019, 8:38 PM

When two sisters reunited in the middle of a baggage claim area surrounded by family, cameras and passengers in Detroit, there were smiles and laughs. But most importantly, there were two red-haired families merging after having no idea of the other's existence just a couple months ago.

On Oct. 16, Suzan Baekkelund, 76, of Nashville, Tennessee, and Jackie Murphy, 80, of Detroit, saw each other for the first time in 75 years at the Detroit Metro Airport.

While Murphy had always known that she had a little sister somewhere out there in the world, Baekkelund did not. She had been raised as an only child -- and had no idea that she'd been adopted.

Their mother, a factory worker during World War II, had given Baekkelund up for adoption as a newborn.

"My mother had to give up a newborn baby because my brother was 3 years old and I was a little over 5. And, she could not afford to feed another child or clothe them, especially alone," Murphy told ABC News on Wednesday. "There was no father. He disappeared."

Murphy said she was distraught when her mother came home one day without Baekkelund, whom she originally knew as Sandy, her birth name. Feeling like she was living life with a part of her missing, she said, she finally decided to ask her mother about where her little sister could be.

"I asked at least 40 years ago. As an adult, I questioned my mother about what happened [to my little sister]," Murphy said. "I needed to know. And so she told me the best she could the adoptive parents' last name, which was Trotter."

PHOTO: Jackie Murphy and Suzan Baekkelund, center in blue and floral shirts, celebrate their reunion after 75 years with their family. The women's mother experienced hardship and put Baeekkelund up for adoption.
Jackie Murphy and Suzan Baekkelund, center in blue and floral shirts, celebrate their reunion after 75 years with their family. The women's mother experienced hardship and put Baeekkelund up for adoption.
Courtesy Inga Baekkelund

With this new information given to her, Murphy and her family searched for her sister.

"My husband and my daughter tried to locate a Sandy Trotter back in their records in Michigan and it came to a halt. The name stopped," she said. "Guess her name now is Suzan, but it was Sandy as a baby. Suzan got married, then her name changed, and there was no longer a Trotter in existence."

While this may have halted Murphy's search for her baby sister temporarily, it did not stop fate from bringing the two women together.

Hundreds of miles away, Baekkelund and her daughter, Inga Baekkelund, purchased two Ancestry DNA kits a year ago because there was a sale going on. After leaving it untouched for several months and growing more curious about Inga Baekkelund's paternal Norwegian ancestry, they took the test.

"We were both really more curious about her father's side, who claimed he was full Norwegian, and was super proud of it," Baekkelund told ABC News on Tuesday.

While they found out that her late husband was actually part Swedish, they stumbled across information that seemed quite impossible.

"After looking at Inga's results, we looked at my results and it said that I had cousins, two first cousins," Baekkelund told ABC News. "As far as I knew, I didn't have any blood relatives at all. The only relatives I had were the two I produced: my daughter and my son. I thought, maybe it was a mistake."

But it was not. The following two weeks consisted of Baekkelund's new cousins tracking down who in their family had given up a baby girl for adoption. While this was going on, Baekkelund had to wrap her head around the very likely possibility that she was, in fact, adopted.

PHOTO: Jackie Murphy, 80, reunited with her sister Suzan Baekkelund, 76, in Detroit, Michigan, after they learned about each other through DNA testing.
Jackie Murphy, 80, reunited with her sister Suzan Baekkelund, 76, in Detroit, Michigan, after they learned about each other through DNA testing.
Courtesy Inga Baekkelund

"There were times where I suspected that maybe I was adopted because I didn't look like my parents. ... I have red hair and they had dark hair and I know you have to have a red-hair gene in both parents to get a red-haired child," she said.

After two weeks of playing a game of elimination and contacting each offspring of Baekkelund's possible parent, one of her cousins called the last possible offspring who could know Baekkelund's biological mother.

When Murphy received the call, she instantly responded: "You found my sister."

Shortly after, the two sisters talked to each other on the phone and cried together. Just a couple weeks later, Baekkelund flew to meet Murphy and was surprised to be greeted by her new family at the airport.

"When I came down the escalator to get my bags, there were writers and TV cameras and people from my flight everywhere," she said. "I didn’t process what was happening. They were holding a big sign that they made, which said, 'Sisters Suzan and Jackie, Reunited.' I saw the sign first and everything else started clicking."

It's just really special to find that I have all this family. It does make me feel less alone.

“We just went to each other and hugged and kissed. It was very emotional, very sweet," she said.

Over the weekend, the two families came together at the Westland Farmers Market in Michigan. While the entire family kept talking about how much Baekkelund looks like her mother, Murphy said she felt like she was getting both her mother and sister back.

"They look so much alike," she said. "It's unbelievable."

Baekkelund, who originally thought she had no family but her children, was surrounded by cousins. Inga Baekkelund met aunts for the very first time.

"I'm 76 now and I'm thinking to myself, 'So what happens when I die? My children have no relatives but each other.' And now we have 100!" she said.

As far as what’s in store for the sisters, this is only the beginning, they said.

"Jackie and I talk on the phone every day. We're now planning holidays together and non-holidays together," Baekkelund said. "It's just really special to find that I have all this family. It does make me feel less alone."

"We've missed sharing secrets of our boyfriends, going to shows together, having our sleepovers and our hugs. I missed it all as she did," Murphy said. "But now, we will be together until the day I die. This is forever."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events