Separated by time and space, long-lost sisters find each other 60 years later
DISCOVERY BAY, Calif.—A DNA test was the missing link that brought two women, living on opposite sides of the country, to find that they were long lost sisters.
Linda Burns, 66, of Discovery Bay, California, was contacted on Facebook by the daughter of Evamaria Kinner, 61, of Decaturville, Tennessee, in October of 2015 and was asked if she was the daughter of Bronis Yakovanis.
She was, and the Facebook chat she was having was no longer with a stranger but now her niece.
“Evamaria's daughter took a DNA test and my father came up, so they searched,” Burns said. “She didn't know that our father had passed away, and after a time, she had given up searching for him.”
They connected through the DNA test but also through a somewhat uncommon name: Yakovanis.
Kinner and Burns' grandparents emigrated from Lithuania before Bronis Yakovanis, their father, was born in Boston. Yakovanis went on to serve in Germany in World War II and later worked for Honeywell.
Kinner remembers being about 6 years old and crying as the train she and her mother were on left the station in South Boston.
“All I know was that I had two dolls and one coat and I got on a train and that was the last time I had seen him,” Kinner said. “I remember crying and I actually did at the train museum yesterday. I bawled like a baby. I must have remembered something.”
For most of her life, Burns never knew her father because her mother was still pregnant with her when they left Boston. Her mother always told her that she thought he lived in Florida.
“I didn't know my father until I found him in 1972,” Burns said. “I had a three-hour layover in Miami and decided to look him up in the phone book. I called him and said, 'This is your daughter, Linda,' and he was shocked, very emotional.”
Three days after talking with her father in Miami, he showed up at her door at in San Bruno at midnight, tears in his eyes.
“My father and I were very close until he died in 1999,” Burns said. “When I was back in Florida, when he was very ill, I saw a little picture of a girl and was excited because I thought it was a picture of me.”
The photo turned out to be a picture of Kinner. For the longest time, though, Burns thought her sister was German since her mother had left her father over an affair in Germany.
When Kinner called Burns for the first time in 2015, it didn't feel awkward or uncomfortable.
“I just said, 'Hi, this is your sister,'” Burns said. “It was like it was meant to be.”
Over the past 15 months, the two sisters have been chatting, exchanging photos and stories. They both have had the same health problems and even had back surgery on the exact same day. They are both cancer survivors and they both love the water.
“I used to show cars and she has a love for racing cars,” Burns said. “You can have family that are raised together that have nothing in common at all, but we have so much.”
“We don't even have a girl hobby,” Kinner added with a laugh.
Kinner flew out to visit Burns in late February and the two toured the area: wine tastings, Sacramento's railroad museum and Columbia State Historic Park.
“It's been a really good reunion. I can't believe a lot of people don't want to meet their siblings or parents,” Burns said.
“They might be mad, or they may want to know, then they chicken out,” Kinner said. “Give it a chance. Meet them.”
“It will either go your way or it won't. You never really know if somebody really needs their family,” Burns added.
Both of their families have expanded. They have an aunt and cousins in South Carolina. Kinner never knew about their brother, Joseph Yakovanis, who passed away in 2009, but she was able to meet two of his daughters while she was visiting. Burns gained a niece in Florida and nephews in New York and Tennessee as well as a number of grandnieces and grandnephews.
They are thinking of a big family reunion in South Carolina in the coming year.
“Now I need to treat her, country-style,” Kinner said.