Love and secrets

A simple DNA test expands a Clinton woman’s world, family circle

  • Krista Jackson, left, and Tilly Baker, right, are long-lost sisters who found each other through the DNA-testing site 23andMe.

  • Krista Jackson as a child, and right is Tilly Baker as a child at the same age.

Clinton resident Tilly Baker grew up as an only child, adopted by a loving couple that gave her a beautiful childhood. Not only was she her parents’ only child — she was the only child in her extended family.

At the age of 33, that all changed.

“It’s been a wild few months, really,” said Baker. “It’s been amazing. I couldn’t ask for a more positive experience.”

It’s all because of a DNA-testing site called 23andMe. She grew up with the belief that she was part Cherokee, since that’s what her birth mother told staff at Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge — then Oak Ridge Hospital — when she was born.

To confirm that, she submitted a DNA sample to the site. As it turned out, no Cherokee ancestry registered, but a few months later, something unexpected happened.

A first cousin by birth found her.

Baker discovered that she had 15 first cousins.

And a sister.

“I knew of her existence in theory,” Baker said.

She had been told that there was a sister that was six years older than her, but nothing more. But that sister, Krista Jackson, didn’t know a thing about Baker.

“It came as a shock, because all the cousins were well acquainted with each other,” Jackson said. “As we all started talking, we realized the birth mother was my mother.”

Their birth mother, Glenda Kay Montgomery, has since passed away.

“I have no recollection of my mother being pregnant,” Jackson said. “My mother passed away from kidney disease. The last few years of her life, she was on dialysis, and I was her caretaker. For her to not have said anything in the last days is shocking to me.”

The surprises and curve balls kept coming. Jackson reached out to Baker’s birth father when she discovered who he was, and when she mentioned which hospital Baker was born, he responded with, “Yes, they both were.”


They learned that there was another pregnancy, and another adoption. Baker’s birth parents were in a long-term relationship, and a few years after Baker was born, another daughter was put up for adoption. She is a full sibling to Baker.

And before any of them were born, there was a boy born in 1974.

“After all this came forth, my aunt told me that she had kept a secret for a long time,” Jackson said. “She told me that in 1974, my mom had a baby boy and gave him up.”

But that aunt didn’t know about the two girls.

How her mother could have hidden the pregnancies is a mystery to Jackson, since she was a small woman.

“I was surprised, but I wasn’t shocked,” Jackson said. “She wasn’t an open person. I was a little bit angry. It made me question everything, my whole life. Where was I when my sister was born? Where was I when she was pregnant?”

But the easy relationship between the sisters has made up for the difficult questions. They have more in common than they would have thought possible and have an unexplainable connection with each other.

“We’re always on the same wavelength,” Baker said. “We have a lot of shared interests, a lot of the same music and shows. She said something about that her dream was to be on Jeopardy, and I said that was my dream too! We eat the same thing for breakfast. She eats a peanut butter sandwich and I eat a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.”

The strangest coincidence is that they each had a little black dog for 16 years. Baker’s was named Gizzy.

Jackson’s was Ziggy.

Baker’s adoptive parents, Debbie and Howard Baker, have been very supportive of the recent reconnection. Their memories have gotten fuzzy over the years, according to Baker, and she believes that if it hadn’t been for 23andMe, she never would have had enough details to connect with any of her family.

“It’s been amazing,” Baker said. “It’s wonderful. Sometimes I almost forget that it’s real. It’ll sometimes hit me, and I’ll think, ‘Oh, I have a sister.’”

They don’t know the other sister’s birth name, but Baker suspects they would look similar.

“We suspect she would have dark hair,” she said. “Krista and I look similar when we smile. And her daughter looks like me when I was a child.”

They know even less about the boy, other than a name: William Paul McCarter.

“We’re just hoping someone will hear the story and it will ring a bell,” Baker said. “I’ve had people ask me my whole life if I was related to so-and-so because I looked similar, but I always said no. Now I wish I’d kept a list.”