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B.C. woman's DNA test reveals her best friend of two decades is also her half-sister


When Paula Blanchard learned that her biological father was a stranger, she could have assumed she might be meeting some new relatives. What she didn't know was that by the time she solved the mystery, one of those relatives would turn out to be her best friend of 20 years.

"I couldn't have asked for anything better," Blanchard said in an interview with about her DNA-assisted search for her family. "When we came back as sisters, it totally made sense."

Raised with seven siblings, Blanchard learned during an argument with her mother at age 15 that neither the man who raised her, nor the four boys who she understood to be her elder half-brothers, were related to her by blood.

The identity of Blanchard's biological father became a question that followed her throughout her life.

At first, her mother tried to backpedal on the revelation. Then, she told Blanchard that her father was a man in Vancouver who, when Blanchard tracked him down at age 17, denied that he was related to her.

For close to two more decades, she lived under the assumption that she knew who her father was, but that he wasn't interested in getting to know her nor, in time, her own children.

Then, another revelation.

"The fella that I'd been chasing for, probably, 20 years was literally not my biological father," Blanchard said. "As years went on, my mom had told me that she actually thought it was a guy named Rick, but she couldn't give me any more information on him, at all."

DNA detectives

For more than a decade after, the search stalled. Blanchard's mother had her in a time when unwed motherhood was often concealed in secrecy. The family had moved several times, and with the death of her mother in the interim, the path to Blanchard learning the truth grew more complicated.

Then, in 2019, she turned to 23andMe, a testing service that allows clients to learn about their risk factors for genetic conditions, their ethnic origin and the opportunity to connect with relatives who have also used the service – a vital tool for cases like Blanchard's.

But even with the help of an international network of potential familial connections, there was still a long road ahead.

"When you do DNA, I'll almost say it's like a crapshoot," Blanchard recalled. "You're going to probably have a thousand people attached to you … you're looking for a certain percentage of DNA that brings you to someone that's really close."

Sifting through the profiles, she landed on one belonging to a young woman whom she understood to be a cousin of hers. They began exchanging messages and Emily, Blanchard's newfound relative, even offered to connect her with her grandmother, who had an interest in genealogy. What had been decades of frustration was finally showing progress.

Then, Emily's profile went dark, and Blanchard stopped receiving responses. In her mind, possibly the result of someone else getting in the way.

"Just because one person does DNA, doesn't mean somebody else in their family is accepting of it," Blanchard reflected. "Sometimes, people don't want to open doors that have been closed."

It would be nearly a year and a half before Blanchard heard from Emily again. She emerged to apologize and connect her with her mother, Tania – Blanchard's second-cousin, who would make it her mission to help in the search.

Through Tania, Blanchard learned that this new side of her family had lived in Burnaby, B.C.'s Capitol Hill neighbourhood, east of Vancouver. Over the next few months, the pair gathered names, ages and locations of relatives, discussed theories and regularly looped other family members into the search, all in hopes of identifying the man Blanchard had been searching for since she was a teenager.

By early 2021, their focus landed on four brothers, who were cousins of Tania's father. The two youngest, separated from their older brothers by a yearslong gap, were too young to fit their timeline, leaving just two men who had both passed away, years before: Jack, and his brother, Rick Barker.

Upon hearing the name, Blanchard's maternal uncle said he recognized Barker as the man her grandmother had chased away from the family home decades before, during his sister's pregnancy.

By the time Blanchard learned the truth, both of her parents had died, meaning she would not have the opportunity to reconnect with her father, nor seek closure with her mother. Even so, she says the news would have been warmly received.

"She'd be super happy," Blanchard said of her mother. "It would have been a weight off her shoulders."

But as fate would have it, a different opportunity still remained.

Sister, meet sister

Tying up some loose ends, Blanchard and her aunt tracked down an obituary for Rick Barker with details that confirmed their theory, including mention of a son, Keith, and a daughter, for whom Blanchard's aunt hadn't previously been able to recall a name.

That name was Heather Barker – a woman who had been Blanchard's closest friend of 20 years.

Surprised didn't begin to describe her.

"I yelled to my aunt and uncle and my husband: 'Oh my God, Heather is my sister!'" she said. "'That's my best friend! These are the people we hang out with all the time, go on vacations … we do everything together.'"

Paula Blanchard, right, hugs her best friend Heather Barker on their first family Christmas after discovering they were also half-sisters (Photo courtesy Paula Blanchard).

Since the discovery, one realization has dominoed into many others. Blanchard has the same curly hair found among many of Barker's relatives. She and the Barkers also share a love of playing music.

Time and again, Blanchard recalls strangers assuming she and Barker were related, when at the time, she had no idea how right they were.

She and Barker even picked the same name for one of their kids, known now as "Girl-Taylor" and "Boy-Taylor."

Blanchard recalls instinctively taking on a big-sister role throughout the time they've known each other, from an eventful and sickly ride home after a trip to Whistler, B.C., to sharing her old hand-me-downs.

Shortly before Rick passed in 2016, she remembered Heather visiting Vancouver Island to spend time with him – a moment that's only taken on more significance now that she knows that the death Barker was preparing to grieve was her own father's as well.

Blanchard says subsequent genetic tests confirmed her and Barker to be half-sisters, and in something of a victory lap for the decadeslong search, they ended up joining forces to connect with a long-lost cousin of theirs, found through, another genealogy service.

The Blanchard-Barker family poses for a group photo at their first gathering since Paula and Heather discovered their relation (Photo courtesy of Paula Blanchard).

By way of advice to her fellow would-be genetic sleuths, Blanchard says it's important to cast a wide net, as it's impossible to predict which testing service your potential relatives are using.

Another tip is to know what you're getting into.

"Be ready and prepared that things may not always turn out the way that you're hoping it to," she said. "There is part of me that didn't want to know the truth … but I'm glad I didn't stop trying to figure it out."

Since solving the mystery, Blanchard's been making up for lost time with members of her newfound family. She'll be playing a show with Barker's brother-in-law in April, and for Barker's birthday the same month, they've invited yet another newly discovered cousin to help celebrate.

"When I lost my mom in 2015, you know, nothing was ever the same … When I found the new family, all of the sudden, it just revitalized everything – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays, all this kind of stuff," Blanchard said.

"It turned out really good, for us." Top Stories

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