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Adopted Sebastopol shopkeeper, 62, meets sisters for first time

See those three women at a window table at the Sonoma County Airport’s restaurant?

They’re leafing through an old photo album and talking and laughing, except for the one who now has her hands over her mouth and weeps.

Two of them are from out of town and just met the one in tears, Sebastopol’s Kathy Anderson. About a month ago, Kathy, the eldest at 62, hadn’t yet heard of the other two.

She didn’t know they’re her half-sisters.

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IT’S SOME STORY how Kathy, a 1973 graduate of Analy High who manages the Cultivate Home store, set out to find something, anything about her birth mother.

Relying mostly on the virtual wonder that is Ancestry.com, she learned much about her birth mom, including the sad discovery that she died long ago. On the upside, Kathy’s genealogical research now has her venturing onto a whole other, richly laden branch of her family tree.

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SHE WAS ADOPTED at birth, she’s always known that.

The adoptive parents she adored, the late John and Iris Bastida of Sebastopol, knew nothing about her birth father and little about her birth mother.

Kathy grew up, married and had two children. Curiosity about her birth parents and why she was put up for adoption prompted her to do some searching back in 2001.

She uncovered her birth mother’s name, Dolores ?Thomas. But beyond that, she struck out. “I let it go,” she said.

In time, both Kathy’s daughter, Becky Gehrett of Sebastopol, and her daughter-in-law, Deanna Gehrett of Cloverdale, became mothers. They told her that as moms they’d love to know more about their family history.

So in 2014, Kathy took a DNA test and submitted the results to Ancestry.com for a search for possible relatives. There were hits but none panned out.

Just last month, Ancestry.com helped Kathy connect with a cousin she didn’t know she had, a young Arkansas man named Trey Shields. In an email, she asked him if he knew or knew of Dolores Thomas.

He did, and he emailed Kathy a photo of Dolores’ late parents. Kathy gazed at the picture and gasped: The woman had to be her maternal grandmother, the two of them look so much alike.

Trey Shields broke the news to Kathy that her mother - who was single and living in San Francisco when she had Kathy - died of cancer in 1970 at just 38. And, shared Shields, she left behind a husband and two young daughters, both of whom are alive and doing well.

Trey gave Kathy a phone number for one of her half-sisters, Lori Brooke of Arizona.

Lori, who’s 52, flew into the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport on Friday. Her sister, Sue Brooke, 54, drove up from her home in Santa Clarita.

Kathy had barely met her half-sister as they sat in the airport cafe to get acquainted and look through the photo album Lori brought along.

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THERE WAS MOM, a 22-year-old Nebraskan who’d moved to San Francisco, smiling on the beach at Santa Cruz with a handsome sailor. Dolores had written the date on the back of the photo: Oct. 10, 1954.

Kathy had a good cry and good laughs with the sisters who’ll now introduce her to all the family she didn’t know she had.

She looked at that photo of her birth parents and smiled: It was taken nine months before she was born in July of ’55.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com

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