“People would always say, ‘Are you sure you’re not sisters?’ ” said Madison, 32. They started to ask themselves the same question.
Although the women could recognize the obvious resemblance, they said, one similarity struck them. They both have a tattoo of the Dominican Republic flag — Tinetti’s is on her back, while Madison’s is on her arm. For both, the tattoo is an homage to their birth country.
Once they discovered their matching tattoos, they quickly learned their shared story line: They were both adopted from the Dominican Republic shortly after birth and grew up in Connecticut: Tinetti in New Haven and Madison in nearby Ansonia.
“For a minute, we genuinely thought we might be sisters,” Madison said. But their respective adoption papers indicated otherwise.
Side by side, they closely examined the documents. According to the papers, Madison was born in Jarabacoa, while Tinetti was from Santo Domingo. Plus, their birth surnames did not match.
“So we just forgot about it for a while,” Madison said, but nonetheless, “we always acted like sisters.”
They dressed alike, spent their spare time together and even tricked co-workers and customers into believing they were sisters — which for them was not hard to do.
In 2015, Madison moved to Virginia Beach, Va., and they stayed in touch. Both went on to work in health care.
While in Virginia Beach, Madison set out to find her birth family.
“Even if they didn’t want to meet me, I was not going to leave this earth without trying,” Madison said.
As a Christmas gift in 2018, Madison’s adopted mother bought her a 23andMe DNA genetic testing kit, and she matched with a number of distant relatives, including a cousin who also lived in Connecticut. That cousin introduced her to her birth family, most of whom live in the Dominican Republic.
“He put all the pieces of the family puzzle together,” said Madison, adding that she was introduced to her father and siblings, and learned that her birth mother had died in 2015 after a heart attack.
Tinetti, in contrast, was never interested in looking for her birth family, for fear of what she might uncover in her search.
“Not every story is a happy ending,” she said, adding that she had decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
Madison took the opposite approach, flying to the Dominican Republic to meet her father and seven siblings in 2019.
“We bonded immediately,” said Madison. “It was like I had known them my whole life.”
Still, there was one sibling whom Madison didn’t yet know she had.
It wasn’t until December 2020, when Madison received a spontaneous message from a friend, Molly Sapadin, that the dots started to connect.
Sapadin is Tinetti’s childhood best friend and was also adopted from the Dominican Republic. Sapadin and Tinetti were adopted on the same day, and their adopted families became close friends.
Sapadin, 31, had met Madison through Tinetti, and she, too, had recently started exploring her biological roots. She noticed that Madison was posting photos with her birth family on Facebook, and she recognized the last name “Collado,” which was written on her own adoption records.
The women were surprised to find that according to the paperwork, Sapadin shares the same birth mother as Madison. But after Sapadin did a 23andMe DNA test, they learned the paperwork was wrong. Their profiles showed that they are cousins, not sisters.
Sapadin said the adoption agency, “made a very big mistake.”
But things finally started to make sense: Since Sapadin and Tinetti were adopted on the same day, Sapadin wondered if their paperwork had been accidentally switched.
Sapadin shared her suspicion with Madison, who asked her birth father if the family put up another daughter for adoption. When his answer was yes, they encouraged Tinetti to do a 23andMe DNA test immediately.
About two weeks later, on Jan. 27, the results came in. At long last, what they suspected from the start was confirmed: Madison and Tinetti are sisters. The test indicated that they share 57 percent of their DNA.
“I had to close the app and reopen it because I wanted to make sure it was real,” Tinetti said. “I’m still waiting for someone to come out and say, ‘Just kidding.’ ”
Madison said she instantly broke down in tears.
“This was just the missing link,” she said.
The results were rewarding for Sapadin, too: “I’m very excited to know that my best friend is actually my cousin,” she said.
Since the results came in, the sisters talk daily and even squabble like siblings.
“I will forever be her annoying little sister,” Tinetti said with a laugh.
Tinetti connected with her extended birth family, including their father, who said he is overjoyed his daughters found their way to each other — and back to him.
“I prayed for this day to come,” said Adriano Luna Collado, 54. When he put his two daughters up for adoption, he had another child at home who was severely ill, and financial challenges were mounting.
Madison and Tinetti are hoping to visit their birth family in the Dominican Republic next month. In the meantime, they settle for video chats.
“Dad cries every time,” Madison said. “He is just so excited.”
While the sisters said they’re thankful for the DNA confirmation, their bond — which they believe only long-lost siblings can share — was clear all along.
“Now that I look back on it, this had to happen,” Tinetti said. “We were meant to cross paths like this.”
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