Reunited siblings Marty McCarthy, left, and Donna Moore '79 are shown in this family photo.
(The following story was published Dec. 31 by the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh, N.Y., and is being shared with its permission.)
By JUSTIN TROMBLY | Press-Republican
PLATTSBURGH — The anxiety gnawed at Marty McCarthy as if he were a kid before Christmas.
Early this month, in a specially closed-off room at the Butcher Block, the 53-year-old from Champlain was about to find what he had been searching for since 16.
His long-lost sister had arrived.
“Oh my God, look at you,” he said to Donna Moore, who as an infant had been put up for adoption by their mother, Loretta, seven years before his birth.
They hugged, wiped their eyes and hugged again.
“At that moment, it was an instant relief,” McCarthy told the Press-Republican later in December. “It was like, ‘This is where you need to be, and you’re OK.’”
For decades, the two had each lived with nibbling curiosity — McCarthy always searching for the sister he had learned about as a teenager, Moore always wondering about her birth parents.
With the help of online DNA tests, the siblings who had spent a lifetime apart were united.
‘Found your sister’
McCarthy was born in 1964, the youngest, to his knowledge, of four boys.
But when he was 16, his grandmother pulled him aside and told him a secret: His mother had had a daughter out of wedlock and placed her for adoption in 1957, before she had married his father.
Keeping his word, he never discussed it with his mother, who died in 2005, but he did tell his then-girlfriend and now-wife.
“We’ve always known I had a sister out there,” he said.
After graduating from Northeastern Clinton Central School, McCarthy spent a few years contacting adoption centers around the area. Without much luck, he let up on his search until about a year ago, when he signed up for a DNA test through Ancestry.com, the popular genealogical website.
In August, his wife was browsing his profile when she saw an alert: Her husband had netted a close genetic match with a D.W. Moore.
“You’re not going to believe this,” McCarthy remembered his wife saying. “We may have found your sister.”
Moore was adopted at 5 months old out of Catholic Charities in Plattsburgh. Her adoptive mother saw her big eyes and knew she was the one.
Her parents had met in China, where her mother was born and her father was stationed during his Air Force service. They decided to settle in Plattsburgh, the site of her father’s last assignment. They never hid her adoption from her.
Moore’s life after graduating from Peru High School followed a similar route: She earned a nursing degree from Keuka College and immediately joined the Army. She was stationed at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, with her future husband.
They married in 1980 and spent 20 years traveling through the military, making stops in Texas, Washington state, Washington, D.C., and Germany.
In the late 1990s, the couple adopted a daughter and, in 2000, a son. That’s when Moore retired, and the family settled in Charlottesville, Va., where they still live.
All the while, Moore had thought of her past.
“You are always, in the back of your mind, curious,” she said about the experience of being adopted. “You wonder what it was like.”
In 2015, after seeing a commercial for Ancestry.com and wanting to learn about her possible Native American heritage, she signed up for a DNA test.
Her results yielded little until November 2017, when she saw an August message from a man claiming she could be his sister.
McCarthy wanted to connect, of course, but he also wanted to make sure his potential half-sister knew about their family health history: His mother and grandfather had had heart issues.
Finally, he got a reply. The details of Moore’s birth lined up with what McCarthy had been told as a teenager, but here came the real test: She had a birth record with her mother’s name listed.
Was his mother’s maiden name Coaché?
“You got to be her,” he recalled thinking.
McCarthy gave Moore his number and told her she could call when and if she was ready.
By the next morning, his phone was ringing, and when he picked up, a voice came across the line: “Hi. This is your sister.”
The two talked for half an hour, and then Moore let her half-brother know she would be visiting her summer home in Plattsburgh in December. From there, they arranged their Butcher Block meeting.
“My head just started to spin,” McCarthy said. “‘Wow, this is really going to happen. I’ve been waiting for this since I was 16.’”
Filling in blanks
When McCarthy and Moore met, both said, it seemed natural. There was no awkwardness, no searching for questions, no silence.
“We both just wanted to fill in the blanks with each other,” McCarthy said.
“We could see our resemblance,” said Moore. “We just clicked.”
Their resemblance — particularly from the nose up — struck McCarthy because he could see so much of his late mother in Moore.
Mom would like this, he thought.
A few days later, McCarthy took Moore on a tour of Champlain. He showed her the 1800s farmhouse where their mother was born. He showed her the home across the street where their mother had raised the boys. He showed her the church the family attended, St. Mary’s Catholic, and the church’s cemetery on Prospect Street, where their mother is buried.
And before she left for Virginia, McCarthy gave his sister a photo of their mother from high school so she could stay connected to her memory.
“Once you’re connected, you have to stay connected,” he explained.
‘Not alone anymore’
The siblings plan to meet again, likely over the summer.
According to McCarthy, the TLC network show “Long Lost Family” is interested in following up on their story.
And in the future, they hope they can identify Moore’s birth father.
But for now, the two are staying in touch — and staying reflective about their meeting.
“Having the knowledge that you have a family member you don’t know … it’s almost human instinct to find that person and to make sure that they know that they’re not alone,” McCarthy said, explaining what drove him for so long.
He continued: “If you can help somebody find out who they are and where they come from, you could help complete them — and what better time than around the holidays.”
Moore said it’s hard for those who weren’t adopted as children to grasp what it means to find birth family.
As Moore learned more about her biological mother, she wished she could “let her know I had a good life, that I know that my parents loved me, that I was OK, and I would hope she was OK with her decision.”
After losing her adoptive father years ago and her adoptive mother in August, Moore’s nuclear family was gone. Meeting McCarthy, she said, gave her another chance for connection.
As McCarthy put it: “She’s not alone anymore. She’s got a little brother to pick on.”