‘Lizzie, Lizzie, how lovely,’ said Ann when she finally got to hug her sister. ‘How lovely to see you in the flesh,’ said Elizabeth.
Last April, Elizabeth, a 78-year-old from Albany, in the US state of Oregon, was shuffling through her mail when she saw a letter from Aldershot, UK - the town where she was born. ‘I saw Aldershot, ooh, I did a double-take on that,’ says Elizabeth. ‘I opened it up and looked at it, and my eyes popped out my head.’
‘I am writing to you as I am searching for a family connection,’ the letter began. Elizabeth knew exactly who this was about, and minutes later she was on the phone to the UK. On the other end of the line was Ann, her long-lost twin sister. ‘I was over the moon, I couldn’t speak,’ Ann says. ‘I let Elizabeth speak mostly, I had to pinch myself because I realised, I’ve got a sibling, a sister. It’s so wonderful, I’m not on my own any more. I’ve got no words to say. I’m so happy - I have Elizabeth.’
Unlike Ann, Elizabeth knew she had a sister. On 1 May 2014, a year after that first conversation and 78 years after they were separated, Ann and Elizabeth were reunited in Fullerton, near Los Angeles, on Thursday - the longest gap on record, Guinness World Records says.
They were invited to the city by Dr Nancy Segal, a psychologist who has been researching twins for more than two decades. Twins who have been brought up separately are of great interest to scientists examining inherited or genetic influences on behaviour. Segal will be looking for similarities and differences during a two-day study, and carrying out DNA analysis to establish whether they are identical or non-identical (fraternal) twins. ‘What was it in their life that caused the differences? If they’re fraternal, it could be character as well as circumstance,’ Segal says.
‘We want to get a comprehensive overview of their lives, their abilities, their interests, and put it all together as an important case study, because this is really the world’s longest separated pair of twins.’ ‘I’m 20 minutes older than my sister,’ says Elizabeth confidently. It’s the kind of thing twins often say, but in this case every detail is new and exciting. Elizabeth has been looking forward to taking part in the study. For Ann, it’s been about one thing only: ‘Just getting over there to give Liz a big hug. I can’t get there quick enough, to tell you the truth. I’m over the moon. There’ll be tears and everything.’
The twins were born Elizabeth Ann Lamb and Patricia Susan Lamb on 28 February 1936, in Aldershot, UK. Their unmarried mother, Alice Alexandra Patience Lamb, was in service as a domestic cook. Their father’s name was Peters and he was in the army - Aldershot has had a military base since 1854 - but he never saw his daughters.
Ann Hunt grew up in Aldershot as the only child of Hector Wilson and his wife Gladys, who worked as the manageress of the Post Office canteen. The Post Office boys always looked out for Ann.
She was 14, when she found out she was adopted. Her aunt told her, so she went home and asked: ‘Were we adopted, mum?’ An odd choice of words. ‘You and your ‘we’,’ her mum replied. ‘No, you were a chosen child. God sent you. Your mother wasn’t able to keep you, so she allowed me to look after you and to adopt you as mine - someone to love.’
Ann doesn’t know why she used the word ‘we’ - she doesn’t think her adoptive mother had any idea she was a twin. ‘She would have told me,’ she says.
So could Ann have had a physical memory of her twin? Dr Segal doesn’t think so. ‘I think people over-romanticise that,’ she says. ‘I don’t think once they are born they crave physical comfort. A mother who has lost one twin might say: ‘The twin is looking for comfort.’ Or people say they were unhappy and something was missing - but I think you can read too much into that.’
The year Gladys died, in 2001, Ann finally went to the register office to collect a copy of her own birth certificate. It gave her birth mother’s name, Alice Lamb. Her occupation was listed as, ‘a Cook (domestic)’. It noted her address, but not her age. There was no mention of any other children on the document either. In 2013, there was a breakthrough. They knew that Alice had got married, at the age of 49, to a George Burton, in Chester, and had a stepson, Albert. Although Albert had also died, they eventually tracked down his son, who said: ‘Oh yes, Alice has a daughter in the US.’ That was how they found out about Elizabeth.
Ann remembers her daughter telling her: ‘We’ve found your sister but there’s a bonus… she’s your twin sister.’ Ann believes it was meant to be. Both sisters have lost their husbands, so this is a real comfort.
Samantha remembers being a bit apprehensive about telling her mother the news, because Ann was the only one to have been given up for adoption. But she needn’t have worried. ‘She was overjoyed - delighted,’ says Samantha. ‘She instantly rang my sisters. She’s just very happy about it.’
After speaking on the phone, Elizabeth immediately wrote a long letter to her twin to explain why she was the only one to be given up for adoption. ‘I had curvature of the spine, which in those days was something which made a person unadoptable,’ she says. ‘We were both going to be adopted but when mother found out about the curvature of the spine, she decided to keep me.’
Ann and Elizabeth both married men called Jim. Ann met her husband Jim Hunt at school, and married him at the age of 25 - he worked as a builder. Three years later, in 1964, Elizabeth married an American, Jim Hamel - although christened Warren, his mother preferred Jim, and that’s how he was always known.
The twins would appear to have quite a lot in common - both are widowed, both are grandmothers, and both pray. It seems they also like to act up in front of the camera. Samantha says it’s hard to find a good picture of Ann ‘because she’s always pulling funny faces.’ And Elizabeth’s son Quinton says of his mother, posing in a cowgirl suit: ‘She liked to be funny with the camera - and still does.’
There are also big differences in their lives. After leaving school Ann worked for a printer, until she got married, and remained in Aldershot all her life. Elizabeth left school to work in a sweet shop, but her dream was to join the Navy, and after going to night school she succeeded, joining the WRNS in Portsmouth. She then moved to Malta, where she met Jim on a blind date. ‘A girl came one night and said: ‘Does anyone want to go out with a couple of Yanks?’ I said: ‘I don’t like Americans - too loud.’‘ But Elizabeth was persuaded, and her impact on Jim was immediate. When he saw her, he said to his friend, ‘I’ll toss you for the blonde.’ He won the toss and they were married for 48 years, until his death in 2012.
After the two days of interviews and tests, the twins will go back to Elizabeth’s home in Oregon where she is throwing a party for Ann, her daughter Samantha - and 80 of her closest friends. ‘I feel like I’ve known Liz all my life now,’ Ann says.–BBC