Imagine finally meeting your twin sister, after spending 78 years apart. That's what happened to Ann Hunt and Elizabeth Hamel – the world's longest separated twins.
Ann and Elizabeth were separated as babies, when their unmarried mother, Alice, was unable to take care of them both. Whilst Elizabeth stayed with her mother, Ann was given up for adoption. 78 years later, curiosity about their past finally reunited them. This is their story.
On 8th February 1936, in Aldershot, UK, an unmarried domestic servant called Alice Alexandra Patience Lamb gave birth to twin girls. She named them Elizabeth Ann Lamb and Patricia Susan Lamb. Their father was in the army, and although Aldershot had a military base, he never saw his daughters.
In the 1930's, having children out of wedlock still carried some stigma and it would have been particularly unusual for a woman in service to be able to keep her children and remain working. It's unsurprising therefore that Alice was forced to consider adoption – however, one of the twins, Elizabeth, suffered from curvature of the spine, a feature which at the time made her unadoptable.
It therefore came about that only Ann was adopted, by a local couple Hector Wilson and his wife Gladys, who worked as the manageress of the Post Office canteen. Elizabeth on the other hand remained with her mother, but by no means had an easy childhood. Due to the impossibility of living with her mother in the house where she served, she was looked after by family or acquaintances for several years, only seeing her mother on her once-a-week day off.
When Elizabeth was around 15, she remembers her mother telling her that she had a twin and was even allowed to see Ann's birth certificate. Perhaps understandably, the discovery initially caused mixed emotions for the teenager. "I wish I'd asked more questions now, but all I knew was that I didn't have a father."
Ann, on the other hand, grew up with no knowledge of her lost sister. When she was 14, an aunt told her that she was adopted and the discovery was confirmed by her mother. However, she doesn't believe that her adoptive mother, Gladys, knew that she was a twin.
When Gladys passed away in 2001, Ann decided to go the register office to collect her birth certificate. From this, she discovered her mother's birth name, Alice Lamb, her occupation and address. There was no mention of her mother's age or of any other children.
It was Ann's daughter, Samantha, who finally made a breakthrough. Samantha enjoyed researching family history, and so was asked by her mother to find out more about her birth family. She initially encountered some hurdles – all of the information was on difficult to read microfiche and not knowing Alice's age made it difficult to know where to start.
Samantha placed adverts in local papers and searched online forums and electoral rolls, in the hope of unearthing a key piece of information which would unlock her mother's past. In 2013, after years of searching, there was finally a breakthrough. Samantha discovered that Alice had married a George Burton, at the age of 59 in Chester, and that there was a stepson, Albert.
Although Albert had sadly passed away, the information enabled them to track down his son, who knew that Alice had a daughter who lived in the USA. They had found Elizabeth!
Reunited at last
On 1st May 2014, 78 years after they were separated, Ann and Elizabeth were finally reunited in Fullerton, near Los Angeles. Guinness World Records confirmed that theirs was the longest separation on record.
They were invited to Fullerton by psychologist Dr Nancy Segal, who had been researching twins for more than two decades. Twins separated for so long is of particular interest to scientists examining whether behaviour is learned or inherited.
Ann and Elizabeth found that despite their separation they had a surprising amount in common – they had both married men named Jim, were widowed grandmothers, religiously observant and enjoyed pulling funny faces in photographs.
The sisters feel that their reunion was meant to be – with both of them having lost their husbands, their new-found family connection is a real comfort. They now regularly talk on Skype and Elizabeth threw a party for Ann, her daughter Samantha and 80 friends at her home in Oregon. "I feel like I've known Liz all my life now," says Ann.
Image by: Tambako the Jaguar
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