Jerry Nielsen has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving — a sister he never knew about until a few months ago and other biological siblings as well.
It all started when Jerry and his wife, Nancy, were enjoying a vacation in Oregon this summer and Jerry got an odd e-mail.
The e-mail was from Rebecca Benton, a sister Jerry, who was adopted at birth, never knew he had. Needless to say, Nielsen was shocked.
“I didn’t know that there was anything out there but my adopted parents,” Nielsen said.
The long-lost siblings connected and Benton flew in from Chicago Tuesday to spend Thanksgiving with the Nielsens in Laguna Beach. It will be the first holiday Nielsen will have spent with a member of his biological family.
“It was like not having tasted the sweetness of that,” Nielsen said.
They said meeting each other in person at Los Angeles International Airport was a bit surreal. There were no tears, but it was certainly a special moment.
“It’s the first time I’ve actually looked into the face of someone who shares my DNA,” Nielsen said.
Benton’s father told her in 1989 he had a son who had been adopted at birth.
Benton, who was raised in Texas far from Nielsen’s home in Gardena, started a search in the late ’90s that would last 10 years.
The search was difficult because, unbeknownst to Benton, Nielsen had changed his last name from his adopted father’s to his adopted mother’s maiden name.
The search finally ended when, on a whim, Benton typed Nielsen’s name into the search engine at www.classmates.com. Nielsen was listed under his father’s last name — the name he was known by in school.
Benton looked at the pictures and graduation date and knew she had found her brother.
“When I saw his pictures and saw how much he looked like our dad, I knew it was him,” Benton said.
The similarities don’t end there. Nielsen has a musical knack, playing piano and guitar. Benton was a professional jazz singer, and her siblings, Kyle and Reece, are also hip to harmony.
Benton lived in Los Angeles for years, never knowing she had a sibling down the street.
Nielsen also shared traits with his father, Dixon Benton. Dixon was a cabinet builder by profession. Nielsen owned a cabinetry business for 12 years.
“Basically, Jerry and my dad were building cabinets simultaneously,” Benton said.
Nielsen plans on traveling to Texas to meet the rest of the family when he’s ready, but for now the siblings are settling into their new-found roles of brother and sister rather quickly.
“The only thing he hasn’t done yet is the arm noogies,” Benton said.
Nielsen quickly remedied that.