Life is filled with surprises. Janna Roberts, Julynn Tanaka and their siblings recently got the biggest surprise of all — another sister they never knew they had.
Tanaka, Roberts and their brothers Jawin, Ted and Don Westover met their long-lost sister, Chris Nix, for the first time at a buffet in West Wendover, Nevada, in October, bringing six of the eight Westover siblings together for the first time.
“It was so interesting that my mom had another child that she didn’t raise, but she was my mom’s child,” Roberts said. “The way she looked reminded me of my grandmother.”
Nix was born to Julia Hansen in 1943, near the end of World War II. She was given up for adoption as Hansen already had one son and her husband had deserted her, leaving her to raise two young children by herself. It was an event in their mother’s life that the Westover siblings never knew happened.
“Our mother had never spoken to anybody about it,” Tanaka said. “We realized that during the second World War it was not an acceptable thing to do to have your husband leave and then you end up being pregnant.”
Nix was adopted in Arizona and raised in Colorado. She has an adopted sister, who also was adopted by the same family. Nix married a man who already had three children, but had no children of her own, leaving her without any blood relatives that she knew of.
Nix took a DNA test Ancestry.com in an effort to discover her roots. She got the results, and shortly after that, she got a message from Ancestry.com that they had located a first cousin in Vermont.
She contacted that cousin, who put her in touch with Jawin Westover — the full-blooded brother she never knew she had.
“I was sitting there at the computer when I got the message from Ancestry that they matched a first cousin, and then I immediately went to the family tree to figure it out,” Nix said. “At that time, I had found the grandparents names, and that was through a lot of research. I went and told my husband, ‘I just found my mother’ out of the blue. I know who she is and I know where her children are. It was incredible.”
Jawin contacted the rest of his siblings, and they all began messaging back and forth with Nix to learn more about her and her life before they met for dinner in West Wendover. Despite having not known she existed for 70-plus years, Nix was a perfect fit with the rest of her blood relatives, who each brought her a gift their mother had left them before she passed away about two and a half years ago.
“That was quite an experience,” Tanaka said. “She’s a really interesting, wonderful lady and it was like we found somebody who just belonged in the family. There was no strangeness and nothing uncomfortable about it. It was really just a sweet experience. She belongs with us and we can tell she belongs in our family.”
Nix said the reaction from her adopted sister, as well as friends and acquaintances on Facebook, has been incredible.
“My adopted sister is so thrilled for me, which also made it easy to do this whole thing,” Nix said. “She was just so enthused that I had found them and that I was going to follow through with it and see if I couldn’t get to know them. That made it easy because I didn’t feel like I was betraying anybody by doing it.
“It wasn’t real to me until I went to [Wendover] with them, but at the same time, it’s still almost not real. It’s almost impossible that it all fell into place like it did. But I know it’s real.”
Nix came back to Utah for a visit Nov. 17, around her 73rd birthday. Her siblings took her to Temple Square as they have continued to bond. The family ties are undeniable, Roberts said.
“When she came again and we spent more time with her and she sat in my kitchen and we visited, she had some of the same mannerisms as my mom and from the side she looks like my mom,” Roberts said. “There was no doubt that she was my mom’s child.”
Nix hopes her experience in finding her family inspires others who may be searching for their own blood relatives to keep trying.
“There’s always the chance out there,” Nix said. “If you are looking, don’t give up because the chance is out there. If you find them, you have to let them take the lead. I know people who have found [their] mothers and they don’t want anything to do with them. My family had no idea I existed, so it could have been not only shocking to them, but they could have reacted in a negative way to know that their mother had been pregnant and then had a baby they knew nothing about. Instead, they were excited and encouraged.
“Everybody that’s involved is excited about it and has welcomed me so much. That’s what’s incredible about my family, that they all wanted to pursue a relationship.”
The whole experience has brought a feeling of completeness for Nix and her newfound family.
“I went to bed on Thursday night and I didn’t have one blood relative in the world that I knew of,” Nix said. “I got up Friday morning and had hundreds of them.”