‘You’ll never believe this:’ Davenport woman learns of never-before-met half-sister at 92 years old
Vera Nickolas and her granddaughter Alex Dermody often joked that Nickolas unknowingly has a few siblings in the world. The Davenport woman never had any contact with her father after her early childhood, so it wasn’t entirely unlikely.
It wasn’t until Dermody started compiling a family tree that her inside joke became an irrefutable fact — Nickolas had a half-sister. At 92, it’s probably one of the most unexpected pieces of news she could have received.
“I was kind of in shock, and I think I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Why didn’t I know that years ago?’” Nickolas said. “We could have been friends and did things together and really been sisters. But anyway, knowing we have each other now is better than not at all.”
Nickolas was born and raised in Davenport and her parents divorced when she was 2 years old. Her parents went their separate ways, Nickolas stayed with her mother. The next thing she heard from her father was the news of his death. Nickolas was 16 at the time, she said, and didn’t think much about the news.
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Three-quarters of a century later, Dermody decided to use Ancestry.com to create a family tree. She got the idea from a friend who had also found family members who had never been heard of.
To learn more about the family, about which she had only vague information, Dermody said she asked her grandmother for her father’s name and birthday and entered it online. She traced the family tree back to the 17th century and even found a distant ancestor in Cornwall, England related to the Duke of Cornwall.
In many families, the discovery of nobility in the bloodline was perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from such a quest. Instead, the Duke of Cornwall was trumped by Edith Rothermund, 76, née Edith Cummings of Pella, Iowa.
The first thing Dermody found on Nickolas’ father was a marriage certificate confirming that he had remarried. Wanting to know more about the man her grandmother couldn’t really remember, she kept looking.
“I dug a little deeper and found a birth certificate for a girl named Edith Cummings,” Dermody said. “And then I thought, ‘Wait, are there actually siblings? Is this joke we’ve had for 20 years coming true?’”
Dermody woke Nickolas around midnight to tell her the news and the two talked for hours trying to find out more. The granddaughter found Rothermund on Facebook, got in touch and confirmed the connection.
Rothermund and Nickolas’ father died just a few months after Rothermund was born. She still puts flowers on his grave when she visits Iowa.
The sisters initially thought their story was more fiction than fact and never expected anything like this to happen to them. Their high school graduation photos bear a striking resemblance, with Nickolas joking that her sister stole her hairdo. Their childhoods were also similar as both mothers moved in with their grandparents while raising their daughters.
“You hear about it on TV, but to actually happen to you… as soon as I hung up, I called my kids and told them. I said, ‘You’ll never believe that,'” Rothermund said.
She was able to provide Nickolas with pictures of her father and information she never had, such as how he died. Although none of them knew him beyond what they were told, they shared what they knew.
Now the sisters are on the phone regularly because Rothermund in Olathe, Kan. lives. She plans to visit her half-sister this spring as she always returns to Pella for the town’s Tulip Festival.
The connection means so much more than just the sisters. Nickolas’ family is quite small and Rothermund’s is larger and both have new relatives whom they will hopefully meet for years to come. Dermody said she is looking forward to seeing her family grow and can’t wait to meet Rothermund and her relatives in person.
In sharing their story, the grandmother and granddaughter said they hope others might decide to try to find out the secrets of their own families. Rothermund and Nickolas attribute the find to Dermody.
“Thank you Alex because we wouldn’t be where we are today without you,” Nickolas said.
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