I have a new sister-in-law!
While this sounds like a fairly ordinary occurrence, I assure you, it’s not.
Carole Wilson is a sister to my husband, Gary — who, until this spring, believed he had only three brothers for siblings.
Carole’s story begins in England — but it came to us first through Norway, then Florida, Tennessee and Wyoming, giving it an international and multi-state twist.
Our first hint that something unusual was on the horizon was an email from a distant relative of Gary’s in Norway. This fellow had contacted Gary a few years ago to verify the relationship he believed they shared. Since then, we’ve exchanged family history information on an occasional basis.
But an email he sent in May was different: He was in contact with a man on Ancestry.com who had information about Gary’s father’s service in Ipswich, England, during World War II. He said the man provided Gary’s father’s name and his birth and death dates, along with his enlistment and discharge dates, and said he had information he would share only with a direct family member.
Our reaction: What the…?
Gary’s dad never gave his children any specific information about his service in World War II, other than to say he had been close to some people in England. Therefore, we knew he had been stationed there, but that was about all we knew. Our curiosity definitely was aroused, so we sent an inquiry to the email address provided.
The man, Larry Royal of Florida, responded quickly. He introduced himself, gave a description of Gary’s father and said, “I think I have information that would be of interest to Gary and his brothers ... strictly of a personal nature.”
During our correspondance with him, Larry said he also served in England during war time, but in his case, it was during the Vietnam War. While he was in Ipswich, he met and later married a young woman there, then brought her home to Florida. Her family followed in the early 1970s, settling in Florida as well.
Larry, an avid genealogist, said he began doing family history work for his wife, Linda, years ago. Curiously, he discovered that Linda’s older sister, Carole, was born a few years before her parents were married. He asked their mother about that, and learned Linda’s father was not Carole’s biological father. Her biological father was an American serviceman who served in Ipswich during World War II. His name was Eddy Olson, and he was from Wyoming.
A long search
After her step-father’s death in 2007, Carole decided to search for her biological father. A friend who did some genealogy offered to help, but later told Carole she’d had no success. “Do you know how many Olsons there are in Wyoming?” the friend asked.
Carole then recruited Larry to help her. After several years, that search finally led to Gary, through our contact in Norway, who responded to Larry’s request for information on Ancestry.com.
When we contacted Larry in response to his inquiry, he told us about Carole’s family history and asked if we had any photos of Gary’s father, who died 37 years ago.
By coincidence — or providence — we did. I went on a search for family photos after Gary’s mother died in late 2013. She had kept them in a shoebox and didn’t value them greatly, and she rarely showed them to anyone, so I was afraid they’d been lost. I found them about a year later, still in the shoebox, in the keeping of one of Gary’s brothers. He allowed me to take the older photos to scan and share with family members.
While searching for photos to send to Larry in May, I was surprised and pleased to find five pictures of Gary’s dad during World War II. Most were very small photos, but I was able to scan them large enough and with enough detail to make his facial features clear. I sent the digital copies to Larry later that day, and we waited anxiously for his reply.
When it came the next morning, Larry said, “I have seen one of those photos before.”
That one was a very small, full-body picture of Gary’s dad standing on what appeared to be a lawn, with penciled information on the back saying it was taken in England.
Larry sent a copy of that photo to Carole’s aunt who still lives in England, without giving her any information about it. He just asked if she recognized the man in the photo.
We all waited anxiously for her response, but it didn’t come. Finally, after further comparisons by email and phone calls with Larry continued to indicate Gary’s dad and Carole’s father almost surely were the same man, he put the two of them in touch.
Siblings meet for the first time
Gary and Carole exchanged their first emails on May 22 with information about themselves and their families. By this time, Carole knew that Gary’s father had died many years ago, but Gary was able to tell her about the person he was and talk about his memories of his dad.
Gary was so excited, he hardly slept that night.
Growing up the second of four brothers, he’d always wished he had a sister. Now, out of the blue, it looked like he’d always had one, but had never known of her existence.
After several emailed conversations, Gary was anxious to visit with Carole by phone.
“I couldn’t wait to hear what her voice sounded like. I wanted to see if she still had any of her English accent left,” he said. Because Gary is blind, “voices mean a lot to me.”
Their first phone call a few days later “left me wanting a whole lot more,” he said. To his delight, it also confirmed that, indeed, Carole still had a charming English accent, topped with a delightful Southern lilt. With that combination, people often think she has an Australian accent.
Carole was going to see her mother at a family reunion in June, and she said she planned to show her mom the picture of Gary’s dad.
On June 11, Carole emailed the exciting news that her mother had recognized Gary’s dad in the photo as Eddy Olson. Ironically, the very next day, Carole’s aunt in England finally saw the previous email from Larry containing the same photo, and she responded, “That is Eddy Olson. Hope that helps.”
With that confirmation, we felt confident enough to give Gary’s brothers the news about Carole. Since then, DNA testing has confirmed the sibling relationship.
Within days, we began planning how we could get the long-lost siblings together.
That meeting finally took place in early August, when Carole and her sister Linda (Larry’s wife) flew to Wyoming.
How do you describe a meeting between five siblings between the ages of 73 and 52 who never knew about each other? Unusual surely would be a good word. Exciting, certainly. A little nervousness, with a bit of hesitance thrown in for some. But, before long, those emotions blended to move toward acceptance and love. Some expressed regret over the circumstances of Carole’s birth, but the four brothers all said they were happy to welcome her into the family. Photos taken that night show four smiling brothers linking their arms with their newly found sister.
Carole said her mother, who was just 16 when she got pregnant, chose not to remain bitter. There was so much bombing in and around Ipswich during World War II, she told Carole, “You never knew whether there would be a tomorrow. We lived for today.”
“I believe she always carried a candle for Eddy,” Carole said.
After that initial meeting, Carole and Linda spent some additional time getting to know the family Carole had searched for, for so long. Then we took the sisters on a car trip through some of God’s most beautiful country in Wyoming: the Snowy Range near Laramie, Sinks Canyon near Lander, the Tetons and Yellowstone. They also spent several days with us at our home here in Powell. There never seemed to be enough time to talk or get to know each other ... or to make up for decades of not knowing each other. But we were left with beautiful memories of two special people who we now count among our family.
We hope there will be additional chances to show Carole more of our beautiful Wyoming, and we plan some day to visit her in Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, John, whom we have not met yet. John encouraged Carole to search for her father, and he has been supportive of her getting to know her new family, but he was unable to make the trip to Wyoming.
We hope to visit Larry and Linda in Florida some day as well.
Gary views learning about and getting to know his sister as a very special, very personal, miracle. They got a late start on this family relationship, but we hope to make up for some of that lost time, and we look forward to making many more wonderful memories together.