Three years ago, Gavin Paros wrote a short description of himself in Hungarian on a social networking website. Alongside details such as his pride in his three children and trade as a plasterer, he gave his birthplace as Liverpool and added: "I have not seen my mother since I was three. I do not know anything about her. But I would like to."
Some 25 years earlier, Gavin had said goodbye to his mother, Avril Grube, for what both believed would be a weekend trip to Blackpool with his father, Joseph Paros. The mother and son did not see each other again. Instead of returning the boy to Liverpool, Joseph "kidnapped" his son to his native Hungary and severed all links with his estranged wife.
Without the instant intimacy of the internet and the penchant of millions of users to post pictures and biographies of themselves accessible across the globe, it is likely that Mrs Grube would have been left forever wondering about the fate of her three-year-old boy. But shortly after 4am on Thursday, nearly three decades of isolation ended in a flood of tears as Avril hugged her son in the hall of her home in Poole, Dorset, in a reunion brought about by the diligence of Mrs Grube's sister, Beryl Wilson, and the power of a personal webpage to dissolve a lifetime of heartache and pan-European exile.
Mrs Grube, 62, who recently suffered a debilitating stroke and was only discharged from hospital a week ago, said yesterday: "Even though it has been nearly 30 years, when I first saw him I recognised him. He has my eyes. I was so overcome and just said, 'My beautiful son,' over and over again. He was very quiet and overwhelmed. We just hugged each other."
The train of events leading to the emotional meeting began in 2006 when Joseph Paros died and his son began efforts to try to find out more about the mother he knew only as Avril. But his inability to speak English hampered any search. Using a social networking site similar to Facebook, called Perfspot.com, Gavin left a message in Hungarian appealing for information along with the crucial details of his birthplace and his full name – Gavin Thomas Paros. It was this web page which Mrs Wilson, 59, from Liverpool, discovered one evening in March after registering with Perfspot.com. In her registration, she declared: "I've signed up to try to track down my nephew."
After typing in Gavin's name, his page came up written in Hungarian. From the text, she was able to decipher the words Liverpool and Avril, and knew instantly she had found the boy lost 27 years ago when the marriage of Mrs Grube and Joseph Paros broke down.
Mrs Wilson said: "As soon as I found him I phoned Avril and said, 'I have some important news', and told her to sit down, and then I heard a merciful scream.
"It was the happiest day of her life when she met her son. She said there were no words to describe it."
Together, the sisters had spent years trying to trace Gavin after he disappeared in 1982, prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, a time when relations between East and West remained frosty. Despite efforts to contact the Hungarian Embassy and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, all entreaties fell on deaf ears. Mrs Wilson said: "Joseph had visitation rights. He said he was going to the zoo or somewhere and when he didn't come back we found out he had taken him back to Hungary. My sister was devastated. Her health suffered. I tried everything but no-one wanted to know." The internet is an increasingly powerful tool for individuals trying to trace a lost family member. A recent survey found that 27 per cent of Britons have lost contact with a close relative. The mushrooming of social networking sites and specialist online search services has made the once-impossible task of scouring paper records achievable in a matter of seconds. Search experts say that sites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook, who between them have more than 400 million members, are particularly useful because as well as providing an instant database they also provide lists of friends and relatives who can be used to trace a missing family member.
Among recent web-based reunions was a American mother who found her daughter on MySpace some 25 years after giving her up for adoption in Iowa, and a British woman who fled Rangoon in the Second World War and believed all her sisters to be dead until a relative put her maiden name into Google.
Even after tracing Gavin, his mother and aunt had to wait several agonising weeks for him to respond to emails because he was not a regular visitor to his web page. After speaking over the phone several times through an interpreter, Gavin arranged to fly from Budapest this week, arriving at his mother's home in sheltered housing in the early hours of Thursday.
Mrs Grube, who suffers from angina and diabetes, said: "Jeff, My husband, went to pick him up at Gatwick Airport and I couldn't sleep that night. I just sat waiting for him to arrive. They got in at four o'clock in the morning.
"Over the years, we had tried everything but couldn't find out what happened to Gavin. Beryl phoned me and said she was 99.9 per cent sure she had found Gavin. I felt so relieved I couldn't believe it."
Gavin, who celebrates his 30th birthday today, has been speaking to his mother through translation software, meaning conversations postponed for 27 years are taking hours to complete. But they have already established that Gavin, who is married with three children aged between six and 10, would like to return to the country of his birth.
Mrs Grube said: "Of course I am delighted to have three grandchildren. I didn't know anything about them and can't wait to meet them. It would mean the world to me if they came to live here."
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