Genes Reunited Blog
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This week's Long Lost Family focused on two women born to unmarried mothers in the 1960's. Back then having a child out of wedlock was perceived as a "dirty secret". Sarah Gayle and Laura McCarthy have both spent a lifetime searching for their mothers and the Long Lost Family team helped them with their search.
First of all we meet 42 year old Sarah Gayle, a mother of three who lives just outside Leeds. She was adopted by a family in 1968 and spent a happy childhood with her parents and two brothers in Surrey. She had always felt very wanted by them, but Sarah had a feeling that she wasn't like her family. She didn't have the same build or the same personality.
In her early 20's Sarah tried to unravel the mystery of her identity. She applied to see her original adoption file. Her mother was named as Susan George who was only 20 when she had her. She had been living in London but was originally from a small village in Derbyshire. In the weeks leading up to the birth Susan was sent to a home for unmarried mothers just 4 miles from where she lived in Putney. Even in the late 60's, a supposedly liberal era, having a child out of wedlock was a source of great shame and hundreds of these homes existed across Britain.
Mother and baby homes provided a place away from the prejudices of family and neighbours where unmarried mothers could go in the weeks leading up to the birth. Back in 1968 more than 7000 women were sent to these homes and given no option but to have their babies adopted.
The one time Sarah thinks of her mother is her birthday and she wonders if her mother is thinking of her. It has been almost 20 years since Sarah received her adoption file and she even hired a Private Investigator but has never been able to find her mother. With the pressure of time her search has become bolder. Sarah went to the village where her mother grew up in Derbyshire. She knocked on a few doors and one lady thought she had moved abroad to either South America or South Africa. With so many unknowns Sarah knew the search may not end well.
Normally you would try to trace someone via their relatives but this wasn't an option with Susan. Having a baby out of wedlock was taboo so her family knew nothing of the baby or the adoption. The team checked birth, marriage and death records and found Susan had married Alan Newell in 1975. They couldn't find her after that and only had the rumour that she'd gone abroad. They managed to find a distant relative of Alan who though they'd gone to South Africa in the 1970s. Their best hope was with electoral roles but unfortunately they are not digitised so it was a long and difficult search. Eventually they found a Susan Newell living outside Pretoria with the right date of birth. They had found Sarah's mother. She divorced in the 1980's and had a son 12 years younger than Sarah.
When Susan was given the news about Sarah she felt overwhelmed and shocked and never thought Sarah would try to find her. Susan never forgot about Sarah and still had a photo of Sarah as a baby in her lounge.
Davina gave Sarah the good news that they'd found her mother and that she was thrilled to hear about Sarah. Sarah was speechless! Davina went on to tell her that her mother had never forgotten about her. Sarah and Susan met at a local beauty spot not far from Sarah's home. The meeting was emotional but a happy one. They went on to meet several times in the weeks following the reunion and planned to keep in touch once Susan returned to South Africa.
The second story comes from a British woman living in Sydney, Australia. This time the mother they had to find left no clues about her life or how she could be traced. Twenty years ago Laura McCarthy left the UK to start a new life in Australia. She is now happily married to Pete with a son Max.
Laura grew up in Oxford and always knew she was adopted. Apart from being told her mother's name, Linda Williamson, the subject was strictly taboo and she wasn't allowed to mention it as she grew up. When she was 18 she took matters in to her own hands as she could now legally access her adoption file. There was a process to follow and she saw a counsellor. When they came to open the file there was nothing in it. She was told that if her mother had wanted to be found she would have had the option to put something in the file and she obviously didn't.
Then Laura moved to Australia and gave up her search. It was only when Max was born 15 years ago that everything changed. She realised that Max was the only person on the planet who looked like her and it made her realise how much she wanted to find her real family. She employed an international search agency who uncovered some startling information. Her mother was only 16 when Laura was born in St Saviour's Mother and Baby home in Northampton in 1966. When she was 17 she married Alan Barnes and they had a daughter Alison, Laura's half sister. Apart from that they couldn't find any more information. Laura found the 'not knowing' the hardest part of her search. They revisited the facts Laura already had. They couldn't find anything about Linda but they did find a match for Allison. They contacted Alison who confirmed that Linda was her mother but she'd sadly died 8 years ago aged just 53. They told Alison she had an older sister who'd been searching for her.
Davina went to meet Alison who told them that Linda had walked out on her new family too when Alison was just 4, leaving them to start a new life in the USA. Alison was raised by father and step mother and only got to know Linda as an adult. It is hard to believe a mother could leave not just one but two children, but Alison explained that she was a very strong minded woman who knew what she wanted. Allison thought that life with two children was not what she'd planned for herself.
Alison always knew she had an older sister and when she was younger she always wished she was there so she had someone to play with a tell secrets to. She especially missed her on the day she got married.
Laura was given the sad news about her mother and then she and her husband flew to the UK so the two sisters could meet. Laura and Alison's reunion was also an emotional one in the home where Laura spent the first few weeks of her life, which is now a convent. Laura was so happy to know that Alison had always been aware of her and she was very happy that she was being welcomed in to the family. The women felt a bond as they had both spent a long time without their mother being a part of their lives.
After their reunion Laura and Alison have been in contact every day. They are planning to visit their mother's grave in the USA.
You can use Genes Reunited in several ways to trace your living relatives. You can search the names added to trees on our site. Maybe someone has added one of your relatives. Or you can ask for her help on Find Living Relatives message board.
We're looking forward to what is bound to be an emotional episode next week when Wendy and Sharon go looking for their sister who disappeared 13 years ago and Wane tries to find his father.