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Apr5FriA simple online inquiry united my wife with the sisters she never knew. April 5, 2019 by Major Jim Smith
"It’s an earthshaker! To think that all my life I thought I was an only child, yet all this time I had a whole other family.”
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To say that my 84-year-old wife, Joan, was overwhelmed when she heard the news would be an understatement. Never in her wildest imagination did she ever think she had any siblings, let alone an extended family she knew nothing about.
Born Carol Charmaine McEwen, Joan had lived her entire life knowing only the parents who adopted her at nine months, Frank and Ada Hunter, a godly Christian couple who lived in the west end of Toronto. The Hunters named their new baby Joan May and had her baptized at a local Baptist church. They had no other children, so Joan became their only child.
When Joan was five, the family began attending the local Salvation Army church. Joan attended Sunday school and gave her life to Christ at an early age. In her teenage years, she was involved in numerous church activities and, after completing high school, she felt God’s call to full-time service as a Salvation Army officer. Entering the Army’s officer training college in Toronto, Joan was commissioned as a lieutenant in June 1954 and appointed as the corps officer at Seaforth, Ont.
I, too, had grown up in Toronto and had met Joan through various Salvation Army activities. I also entered training college, and by the time I was commissioned in 1955, we had been dating for some time and were already talking about our future together. Joan entered nurse’s training at The Salvation Army’s Toronto Grace Hospital and, a month after her graduation in May 1957, we were married. For the next 39 years, we served in Salvation Army ministry in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, raising three boys in the process.
Throughout the years Joan had often wondered about her birth parents—who they were and where they lived. By the time we retired in 1996, Frank and Ada Hunter—the only parents she had ever known—had passed away, but Joan still had her adoption papers safely tucked away. These showed her birth mother’s name, Edith McEwen, as well as Joan’s original name and date of birth.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that our granddaughter, Stephanie, offered to help by looking into genealogical records through Ancestry.ca. There she found that Joan’s birth mother married a man named George Rogers in 1941, and together they had three daughters— Wendy, Robyn and Penny.
Stephanie admits the whole story is incredible. “I eventually discovered the entire McEwen family tree,” she says, “and was then able to contact Wendy and Robyn through Facebook. Once I saw their profile pictures, I couldn’t believe the uncanny resemblance to my grandmother.”
For all her life, Joan had been an only child. This news seemed like nothing short of a miracle.The three sisters live in different parts of Canada—Wendy in Fredericton, Robyn in Airdrie, Alta., and Penny in Calgary. All of them are much younger than Joan, and when Stephanie reached out to them, they were astonished to learn they had an older sister about whom they had known nothing. Needless to say, Joan was also surprised to hear the news. “To think that at my age I was now getting a new family,” she comments. “It’s absolutely unbelievable!”
Word soon got around, resulting in Joan’s family and friends joining in the excitement, all of them amazed at what they had been told. Friends at the Meighen Retirement Residence in Toronto, where we live, couldn’t believe the news. For all her life, as far as she had known, Joan had been an only child. This news seemed like nothing short of a miracle.
Meeting Her New Family
In the days that followed, Joan was in telephone contact with each of her “new” sisters. In these happy conversations, she learned the names of her birth mother’s parents, when they lived and died, and also that Edith McEwen, her birth mother, was one of 10 children. Edith had a sister named Claire, still living, who was born in 1929 and now lives in Toronto. Joan has since talked several times with her and has learned a lot about the extended family.
On October 30, 2018, the four sisters were united for the first time when Wendy, Robyn and Penny, along with Robyn’s son, Kris, were able to visit us in Toronto. We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon of looking at pictures and sharing our life stories.
“When I had a chance to meet them in person and start to get to really know them, there was an instant connection,” says Joan. “Genes don’t lie, and I’m not surprised I look like them. Being part of God’s family is one thing. But discovering you have a whole new earthly family is something else altogether. What a wonderful gift!”
Majors Jim and Joan Smith are retired Salvation Army officers living in Toronto.