Finding each other: Sister discovers brother she didn't know she had

Jennifer Wetzel, her daughter Aubrie and Nicholas Powell meeting on the "Best Day Ever." (Photo provided)
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AVON, Ind. (WTHR) – When Jennifer Lynn Biddle Wetzel's twin brother suddenly died of a stroke, a deep sadness set in.

"I truly feel like part of me died that day," Wetzel said. "A twin connection, there isn't anything like it."

Jennifer Lynn Biddle Wetzel and her twin brother Jeff. (Photo provided by family)

Jeff had a stroke at age 52.

"It was a huge loss," Wetzel said. "When Jeff died, I truly feel like part of me died that day."

Wetzel's daughter Aubrie believes the grief overwhelmed and aged her mother.

"It was like she had nothing to live for," Aubrie recalls.

It was a dark time.

A few years later, Aubrie had questions about herself, her family and their ancestry.

"I wanted to be able to tell future generations where our family came from," Aubrie said. "When my grandfather was alive, I would ask him 'where are we from' and he was just like I don't know we are American that’s all I can tell you."

That answer wasn't good enough for Aubrie.

"23 and Me" DNA testing kit Taylor gave Aubrie for her birthday. (Photo provided)

She wanted to learn her heredity and how her family came to be.

Longtime childhood friend and co-worker Taylor Anderson knew of Aubrie's longing and purchased what she believes was the perfect birthday gift.

"For [her] 23rd birthday, I thought it would be really cool to gift her the ‘23 and Me’ DNA testing kit just as a way for her to learn a little bit more about her history," Anderson said.

As the kit directed, Aubrie swabbed her cheek and sent in a saliva sample.

When the results came back, it indicated she may be related to a man named Nicholas Powell.

"I think he was like a 98 percent match,” Aubrie said. “He was at least a second or third cousin."

A Lost Brother Found

In time, Nicholas Powell contacted Aubrie, writing that his test results indicated they were genetically identified as probably first cousins, possibly once removed.

Wetzel was skeptical.

"I did not even know what that lingo meant," Wetzel said. "I told her, find out if he is on Facebook. I can get on there and creep and see what he is about."

But then Wetzel got a call from a cousin in Oregon.

The cousin told Wetzel that she recently learned through Ancestry.com that she was related to a man named Nicholas Powell.

With two relatives mentioning the same name, Wetzel agreed to take his call.

"He said, ‘Hi my name is Nicholas Powell, that was my adopted name. I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana’ and I immediately said, ‘didn't great grandma live in Fort Wayne?’" Wetzel said.

It was right then that Wetzel suspected the genetic link was real.

"It wasn't what he said, it was how he said it that reminded me of my twin brother who passed away four years ago," Wetzel said.

The two felt an instant connection, that Wetzel believes was divine.

For days, Wetzel and Powell talked and texted nonstop, sharing their life stories, their struggles, their beliefs. After less than a week of the conversation, Wetzel said she felt close to Powell and she wanted to make sure he knew how important he was to her.

"I asked him, if I could adopt him as my big brother,” Wetzel said. “We were so sure something was going on, we had already booked our first trip to West Palm Beach to meet him and his family."

"We knew we had a link and we weren't too keen with the word 'cousin' so being an 'adopted brother' of hers was a great honor," Powell said.

Powell embraced his new title and kept researching his past.

Through a new Indiana law, his birth records in Allen County were unsealed and sent to his home.

"I immediately saw that Jennifer and I had the same mother," Powell said. "I told Jennifer that I am sorry that I can no longer be [her] 'adopted brother' because I am her brother. And we both had this big bawl about it," Powell said.

Wetzel was flooded with emotions.

She recalled hearing about a time when her 16-year-old mother, Judith Braun, left home in Logansport to live in Fort Wayne with her grandmother and attend beauty school.

Birth records now reveal Braun was 16 when she gave birth to a boy in Fort Wayne. That boy was adopted, named Nicholas Powell and spent a majority of his childhood in Lancaster, Ohio.

"We had no idea. It wasn't even on the radar that there was another sibling," Wetzel said. "I just really still can't believe that great grandma, grandma and mom all took that to their grave a big secret. That secret is out now. He's always been our mother's first born and he always will be and he's always been my big brother. I would have given anything to have him like growing up with him. We are going to seize every day ahead and I would like to believe that she would be proud, to see us together." Wetzel said.

Brother and Sister Meet

After weeks of conversations, Wetzel traveled to Palm Beach, Florida to meet Powell and his wife, Claudia.

They waited in the airport, with Nick wearing a big-brother button and holding a bouquet of pink balloons for his baby sister.

Jennifer Lynn Biddle Wetzel (left) and Nicholas Powell (right) on the "Best Day Ever." (Photo provided)

The local television station WPEC CBS12 was there too and captured their first face-to-face.

The reunion celebration started immediately.

Wetzel and Powell created matching blue T-shirts and declared that day, Oct. 29, the "Best Day Ever."

"Some people were like ‘wouldn't that be weird getting there and just meeting this strange guy?’ No. That is my big brother and I know him, he's in my corner, he's got my back, I know like he is my best buddy," Wetzel said.

The siblings share a strong faith and believe God brought them together to heal Wetzel's broken heart and surround Powell with the family he never knew.

"We both feel so strongly that it's a miracle you know we serve a God of multiplication not addition," Wetzel said. "We are not spring chickens. We are not in our 20s and 30s, we are in our 50s and 60s and we just really want to seize the day."

This includes traveling between Indiana and Florida regularly to meet nieces, nephews, grandchildren and other relatives.

"It's only after my last parent passed away in 2004 that I thought, 'I wonder if I do have brothers or sister or cousins or whatever out there?'" Powell said. "I am so happy and proud to have Jen as my sister and have their family members be my family. I can't be any more happy or proud than I am now, and we know we have some of the happiest years of our lives coming forward.”

Now their focus is to make memories, document them with photos and share their story and faith whenever they can.

They've celebrated Powell's 60th birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the new decade and this week, will celebrate their first Valentine's Day as siblings.

"I'm 57 this month, it's a lot of years that we have missed out on. We are just trusting that our best days are ahead and I'm excited about it," Wetzel said. "I told Aubrie I don't think she really realizes the gift that she has given us."

Aubrie is still stunned that her curiosity revealed a family secret and said she watched her mom come back to life after learning she had an older brother.

"She definitely is child-like,” Aubrie said. “It made her more youthful and excited and she just can't take the smile off her face now, and I hope that lasts for a really long time.”

Aubrie plans to tell future generations, her DNA test revealed they are of French, German, British, Irish and Scandinavian descent.

She'll celebrate her next birthday in December, and her friend Anderson, is a bit stumped as how to top herself.

"Still trying to figure that out, I'm like, [last time] I got you an uncle, it will never be as good as a gift," Anderson said.

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