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Published Saturday September 26th, 2009 at 3:21pm

Original Article by Heidi Fenton

Arnold Nikolaisen, 75, shows Traudy Schwenk, 76, a photo of his parent's house in Minneapolis, Minn. Nikolaisen brought several photo albums to share with Traudy so that she could learn about the family she never knew.
The resemblance between siblings Traudy Schwenk and Arnold Nikolaisen is unmistakable: The pale skin, gently rounded face and unique shape of the eyes.

But within those eyes is a world of difference -- brought on by years of living apart.

Nikolaisen grew up in Minneapolis and joined the Navy, traveling the world by the age of 20. Schwenk was raised in a strict German family and lived in Michigan with her mother well into her adult years.

Arnold and Gayle Nikolaisen brought several photo albums for Traudy Schwenk to look through to learn about the family she never knew. This photo is of Arnold and Traudy's parents.
The two shared a common thread: Schwenk and Nikolaisen grew up believing they were only children.

That belief was shattered last June when Schwenk, 76, made a trip to the Hesperia Community Library to attempt tracing her genealogy. She knew she had been adopted but had little more to go on than the name of her birth father. It was on that day she discovered Nikolaisen, the brother she never knew she had.

They met in Hesperia, face-to-face, for the first time last week.

"It takes a little while to get used to when you've been an only child for 75 years and all of a sudden, up pops her," said Nikolaisen, 75, laughing quietly, just minutes after setting eyes on Schwenk for the first time.

Schwenk, full of humor, was quick to respond.

"Just think what would have happened if we had been raised together. I'd have picked on you!" she said.

Something felt wrong

Growing up, Schwenk knew at a young age something wasn't right about her family. She didn't feel like she fit in.

"I didn't look like the family or anything, or have any of their mannerisms," she said.

Her adoptive parents -- Frieda and Otto Schwenk -- had a strong German heritage. They changed her name from Geraldine, her birth name, to Traudy. She was raised in a structured home with strict rules imposed by her mother.

"You didn't step on a line," Traudy Schwenk said. "She could sit there and just shoot daggers at you if you didn't do what you were told."

Traudy's adoptive father died when she was 8 years old, and she and her mother moved from Illinois to Michigan.

Even as she got into her 20s, Schwenk couldn't muster the courage to question whether she was adopted.

The mystery finally started to unravel around the time Schwenk turned 30. Her mother wanted to take her on a trip to Germany and both would need copies of their birth certificates to obtain passports.

Schwenk remembers finding that birth certificate in her mother's dresser shortly after it came in the mail.

"The whole smear came out; I really let her have it. I said, β€˜I want to know right now!'" Schwenk said, recalling her anger and frustration.

But even then, after the truth of her adoption came out, Frieda Schwenk would not discuss the matter. Traudy Schwenk didn't have the names of her birth parents, and without those, she had no further avenue to take.

Her mother died years later, at the age of 96, and Schwenk eventually found copies of her adoption papers hidden away. She sat on the information for several years before finally heading to the Hesperia Public Library last summer to start a search.

Traudy Schwenk, 76, connects with her long lost brother, Arnold Nikolaisen, 75, in her home in Hesperia. Schwenk found out she was adopted, but she didn't discover she had a brother until a few weeks ago after searching on Google.

The search begins

A library employee plugged Soren Nikolaisen, the name she knew as her father's, into a Google search. After a series of moves that included scanning online marriage records, the two found a Soren Nikolaisen that was married to Bulah -- the name of Schwenk's birth mother. Further study found both were deceased. But as it turned out, the Nikolaisens had one child, who was living in Salt Lake City.

In one afternoon, Schwenk's world had turned in a strangely unfamiliar direction.

"I had to wait about three hours so I could calm down enough to call him," she said.

Gayle Nikolaisen, Arnold's wife, remembers that first conversation.

"I said, β€˜he doesn't have a sister. I've known him since he was 16.'" Gayle said.

She eventually realized the astonishing extent of information Schwenk had about her birth parents. The two continued talking over the summer and Arnold's children purchased a DNA test for his birthday in early August.

It was then, after the test came back virtually 100 percent positive, that he finally realized it was true.

Arnold Nikolaisen, 75, of Minnesota and his newly-discovered sister, Traudy Schwenk, 76, of Hesperia, go through photo albums.

Arnold Nikolaisen and Traudy Schwenk were brother and sister.

Schwenk saw a picture of her mother for the first time on her 76th birthday in June. It was a gift sent to her by Nikolaisen's children.

"When I saw that picture, I just looked at it and cried," she said. "To think what I have missed."

As Nikolaisen and Schwenk leafed through book after book filled with pictures of relatives, she stopped from time to time, glancing into the faces of her maternal family and seeing her own features.

The two realize the difficulty their parents must have faced having children during the Great Depression. Money was tight, Nikolaisen said, and likely, his mother had no choice but to give Schwenk to another family.

Gayle Nikolaisen took notice of Schwenk's laughter and smile, which she said were so similar to her birth mother's.

Schwenk fell back on her trademark sense of humor.

"So in other words, I'm in, huh?" she said.