Private Lives: 'I'd never, ever, forgotten her'

A Family Affair: This Week, a brother and sister, parted for more than fifty years, talk about how they were reunited
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The Independent Culture
Joyce Moulding, 53, from Hexham, Northumberland and her brother Joseph McGuiggan, 59, from Sacriston, County Durham, recently met up for the first time since childhood. Their mother died in 1945, aged 24, and their father arranged for them to be adopted by two separate families. He himself died seven years later.

Joseph

I can still remember the evening earlier this year when I saw my name in the 'Searchline' column of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. It was the second letter Joyce had written but the first one that had mentioned me by name. I only saw it by chance - I usually just glance at that page.

This time, though, I noticed someone was trying to find a Joseph McGuiggan - I have always spelt my name McQuiggan, so I didn't think anything of it at first.

Then I saw this McGuiggan had almost the same birthdate as me and thought 'there's a coincidence'. I continued reading the letter and recognised the names Hannah McGuiggan and Joseph Watson, my birth mother and father. Then it dawned on me the Joseph in the letter had to be me. It was such a shock; I yelled so loud my wife thought I must have had some sort of accident.

The letter was from Joyce, although I didn't know at the time she was my sister. I'd always remembered her as Margaret Rose, and she didn't say in the letter that she was looking for her brother.

So, I wrote to her anonymously with a phone number for her to call. When she rang me and asked if I could help her find Joseph McGuiggan, I said, 'You're speaking to him now'. I could just hear this gasp on the other end of the phone.

Then she told me she was Margaret Rose and her adoptive family had changed her name when she went to live with them. I also learnt that I'd been celebrating my birthday on the wrong day.

We arranged to meet in Newcastle and I was okay until I saw the Tyne Bridge from the window. Then I started to feel really odd. I needed fresh air. I had terrible butterflies ion my stomach. In the two weeks or so before we'd met, we'd exchanged letters but the big thing was actually seeing her again.

I couldn't wait - I was going to see my little sister, who I'd last seen when she was just a nine-month-old baby. I'd never ever forgotten her but I'd always thought it might be best not to track her down. What if she'd never been told about me or about her real mother and father? I didn't want to cause anyone any distress. Fortunately, she found me.

But seeing her at the station was just wonderful. We hugged. I dried her tears and we went for tea and talked for hours and hours.

Now I've joined Joyce in the search for other relatives. It's like finding the pieces of a jigsaw. We've tracked down cousins in Australia and family in Slough, and today we got a copy of our father's death certificate from the registrar's office in Newcastle. It's a fantastic feeling. Yes, I'm sad at the years we've missed - I could have been Joyce's big brother all this time.

We're both grandparents now, and we could have shared so many family events. But I don't feel angry or bitter. Our mother was ill with TB before she died, and came out of the sanatorium too soon because she couldn't bear to be parted from us. We have been told that if she'd stayed in for another month, she would probably have recovered.

When she died, the ill-feeling on her side of the family meant our father thought it better to go to friends for our care. He was left with two young children he couldn't look after because he had a shop and a job as a meat porter. Anyway, the families he found for us really cared about us - he did his best.

Joyce

Until I was 12 years old I didn't even know I was adopted. Then I found some birth certificates in a drawer at home and saw I had a different name, to the boys I thought were my brothers. My adoption papers were there too. A year or so later, I managed to find the courage to talk to my adoptive mother about it.

All she told me was, 'Yes, you were adopted at six weeks old', - which wasn't true. She said nothing about my parents, except that my mother had died, and she didn't mention Joe.

But I remembered my adoptive brother once telling me that I had a brother called Joe. I had also memorised every detail of my birth certificate and adoption papers.

My adoptive parents were good people and they loved me but they could never bring themselves to tell me about my origins. I felt I couldn't push it.

Earlier this year I started to search in earnest. A family friend contacted me in response to my first letter in the Chronicle and told there had been a little boy adopted as well. I remembered the name Joe and found his birth notice in the indexes held on microfiche at Newcastle Central Library. It was there in the very first year I looked through - 1939. I went to the registrar's office and got his birth certificate - I just sat looking at it for ages, stunned. That gave me the confirmation I had a brother after all and the details to search for him.

I was so nervous about meeting Joe. I knew we would get along - it was not that sort of worry. I was just so emotional about the whole thing.

Now we've found each other, though, filling in the family history is getting easier. Joe's adoptive mother had 17 children of her own and many of them are still alive - we've found a cousin down South who knows a lot.

Our mother Hannah was a very strong-willed girl, and she was only 17 when she left home to live with our father.

He was forty years older than her. They never married which, along with the age difference, caused a lot of friction between her and her family. But Joe remembers them as being very happy together.

We don't have any pictures of them but we're hoping other friends and relatives might be able to find some. It's fascinating to spot family resemblances - when you see photos of Joe and me in our thirties the likeness is very clear.

In fact, one of the great things about meeting up with Joe again is the feeling of a strong family bond.

We've got a lot in common and we get on so well - he really feels like my brother.

Anyone who has information about Joseph and Joyce's family can call Joseph on 0191-371 1355.

Interviews by

Heather Welford

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