PHOTO: Zoe Carpenter looks over a photo of herself and her sister Jasmine Dockins attending a 2018 Taylor Swift concert during a meeting at the Starbucks in Maryland Farms on Friday, May 31, 2019 in Brentwood, Tennessee. / Photo by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
Brentwood residents Martha Carpenter and her daughter Zoe took an Ancestry DNA test in 2017, and what they found changed their lives in ways they are still discovering.
For many, a DNA search is a way to confirm old family lore about ancestors and their travels. Others use the DNA search as a way to learn more about personal histories, heritage and ethnicities.
But for Zoe — who was adopted by the Carpenter family at 11 months old from a Chinese orphanage in a district called Jiangcheng — the DNA test was more important. It would give her a more complete picture of herself.
As mother and daughter looked through the results, three important words stood out. “Immediate family match.”
For adopted Chinese children, Martha says it’s extremely rare to find immediate family through DNA searches. They went into the tests thinking that maybe they’d find that Zoe had some distant cousins she’d never met.
No one expected to discover that Zoe had a sister.
At first they weren’t sure how accurate the test results were. So through a different company, 23andMe, they took another test. Sure enough, the second search yielded the same results.
Zoe had a sister.
Coincidences across the globe
Jasmine Dockins is 13 months older than Zoe, and lives with her adoptive parents John and Michelle in Cleveland, Ohio. When Zoe and Martha found out about Jasmine, they immediately began looking for more information about her.
When they found her profile page on Facebook, they were greeted by an image of Jasmine doing a handstand on a beach. It was nearly identical to Zoe’s own profile photo.
That wouldn’t be the only coincidence the sisters would encounter.
Since the initial discovery, Martha and Michelle have traded the girls’ baby photos only to find that they had each somehow sported the very same Princess Ariel swimsuits. They looked so alike as girls that when Martha showed her daughter an image of young Jasmine wearing the suit, she said Zoe thought she was looking at an image of herself.
“I don’t feel like they look so much alike now that I’ve gotten to know both of them,” Martha said. “I feel like I can tell them apart easily.”
Though the girls didn’t meet until their teenage years, they were never geographically that far apart.
“They didn’t actually come from the same orphanage,” Martha said. “There are two orphanages in their town and they’re right next door to each other.”
Martha says at one point in the adoption process, she and Bain were even planning to name their daughter “Jazmine.”
Zoe is quick to point out that the spelling her parents would have used included a “z,” unlike her sister’s spelling, which uses the letter “s.”
After some discussion on changing the name from “Zoe” to “Jazmine,” the family decided to stick with Zoe.
“I came up with Jazmine as the name, and I got everybody in the family to sit down and I was like, ‘OK, I want to change the name,’” Martha said. “And they were like, ‘No, we’ve been calling her Zoe for two years since we started the process. We’re not changing the name.’”
“It would have been weird having a sister with the same name,” Zoe said, laughing.
A whole new world
A rising eighth grader at Brentwood Middle School, Zoe lives with her parents Martha and Bain at their home in Brenthaven. She has three older brothers, two in high school and one away at college.
With all those brothers ahead of her, Zoe has never been an only child. But for the first time in her life, she’s navigating what it’s like to have a sister.
“It’s really different because she’s like, I wouldn’t say like a ‘girly girl’ but she’s just not as tomboyish as me because I grew up with brothers,” Zoe said. “It balances out.”
“She wears dresses without complaining,” Martha said with a laugh.
After the Carpenters found out about Jasmine and had spoken with her parents, Martha said she booked a flight as soon as possible to Cleveland. She didn’t want to waste any time.
When the plane touched down in the Buckeye State, Zoe said she was surprised to find Jasmine and her parents waiting at the airport for them, signs in hand.
“It was like, iffy,” Zoe said, recounting the experience. “I didn’t feel that awkward when we were talking with her, it just felt like we weren’t sure what to talk about because we didn’t know each other.”
Though it may have taken some getting used to, the girls have warmed up to each other. Since they met nearly two years ago, the sisters have attended concerts, escaped from escape rooms, toured each other’s hometowns and spent weeks at a time together over the summers.
Watching her only daughter discover a new family has been fun, Martha said. She wanted to “jump right in” and allow the girls time to really get to know one another.
“I had to realize that it is a long-term relationship, so they’ve got to build that,” Martha said. “But I think, for me, it’s just kinda like I gotta back off and not worry about. Let time take its course and let them get to know each other.”
The girls are going to spend time together in July, and Zoe said she’s excited. The sisters haven’t seen each other in person for a year.
“I think, mostly we’re going to swim because we got a pool last summer,” Zoe said, noting that the family had gotten a pool toward the end of the summer. “She was here when the pool was here, but now we have a diving board.”
Zoe said her sister also wants to spend time with her three brothers and get to know them.
“I think Jasmine feels like she got a whole set of siblings,” Martha said.
Other DNA matches
Because the Carpenters have been so vocal about their story of finding Jasmine, Martha said other families have had similar experiences.
“On our orphanage [Facebook] group, there was a mom who got really interested in her story,” Martha said. “And I talked to her and she said, ‘What are the chances of having two sisters found at the same orphanage?’ And I was like, ‘Well, probably not very high.’”
The mom Martha talked with got her results and sent a surprising message.
“She sent me a picture of the report she got and it had a sister listed,” Martha said. “So there’s been actually two from their orphanage that have found a sister.”
At first, Martha said she didn’t know whether to tell people about the way the DNA test had changed their lives. But eventually, she decided sharing their story could only help others looking for answers.
“I think the more you tell people about [a DNA search], the more likely they are to try it themselves,” Martha said.
Zoe’s match isn’t the only discovery the Carpenter family has made through Ancestry DNA. As more people trace their DNA, the pool of possible matches gets larger. On the test Martha took at the same time as Zoe, a new match recently appeared.
She found a cousin in Maryland, and they’re meeting for the first time this summer.
“One of my aunts and uncles had a baby that they gave up for adoption,” Martha said. “I got an email from her saying, ‘I think we might be cousins.’”
Martha said because her cousin and her cousin’s mom are adopted, she really has no way of knowing about her biological family. Martha may just be her first connection to that family.
“So, I tell people, it’s great to trace the DNA but you also never know what’s going to open up in your family tree.”