Although they have seen and spoken to each other for the past year over the Internet, Elizabeth Hamel of North Albany and her twin sister, Ann Hunt of Aldershot, England, weren’t prepared for the emotions they would share when they met for the first time in 78 years Thursday at California State University, Fullerton.
“We came out of the same womb at the same time,” Hamel said, adding she’s 20 minutes older than her sister. “Yet, we hadn’t seen each other face-to-face in 78 years. We share a few characteristics of our mother. It was an amazing event.”
Her sister said it was “like having Christmas and birthdays all rolled into one. I couldn’t speak. I have waited a long time for this.”
They spent Tuesday afternoon at the Historic Carousel and Museum in downtown Albany.
They share a love of reading, swimming and dancing, both married men named Jim and are deeply religious.
“We have the same toes,” Hunt said. “When I see her do something, I can see similarities.”
And both are now part of international research at the Twins Studies
Center at California State University, Fullerton, headed up by renowned scientist Dr. Nancy Segal.
“When we pray, we expect an answer sooner than 78 years,” Hamel said. “But sometimes, you have to wait.”
The twins were born on Feb. 28, 1936, at the Aldershot Cottage Hospital to Alice Patience Lamb, a 33-year-old unmarried domestic. Their biological father, who was in the British Army, never played a role in their lives.
Lamb realized she could not financially support two girls and determined that because Elizabeth had some health issues, it might be more difficult for her to be adopted.
Hamel was reared by her mother, who later married a man named George Burton. She always knew she had a twin sister.
Hunt was adopted by a local family and didn’t know she had been adopted until an aunt told her when she was 14 years old.
“But my mum said I was ‘chosen’,”Hunt said. “She said she chose me and my birth mother chose to give me a loving home.”
Hunt added, “I have had a good life. We didn’t have a lot of material things, but I had what I needed and was loved and cared for.”
Both were reared as only children.
“You know, you daydream about meeting your sister, but mostly, we were busy trying to just live,” Hamel said. “Then, I went into the Royal Navy for three years, got married and had a family. I thought about her, but there was a daily life along the way.”
Hamel’s husband was in the U.S. Navy and the couple moved to North Albany when he took a recruiting position at Oregon State in the 1965.
Hunt remained in Aldershot, married and had three daughters.
It was Hunt’s daughter, Samantha Stacey who got the ball rolling in terms of tracking down her aunt, at the request of her mother. The journey began in 2001, with Stacey working with microfiche and eventually with computers to piece the puzzle together.
She found a birth certificate for her mother, but it took years before she realized that she was looking for a twin.
A year ago, thanks to information provided by her grandmother Alice’s stepson, Stacey sent a letter to Hamel, who shared it with her sons, Quinton and Jeff.
“It wasn’t easy and there were many starts and stops,” Stacey said. “But I would encourage anyone who thinks they have someone out there, to do the research and to not give up.”
Stacey said a big breakthrough came when her husband asked her what she wanted for Christmas.
“I was exhausted and was trying to take care of a little one,” Stacey said. “I said I’d like for him to track down Alice’s death certificate ... and he did.”
The importance of that move was it was registered by Alice’s stepson. Stacey soon contacted him and he told her that Hamel lived in Oregon.
“It has been delightful,” Stacey said. “It is a very moving experience. It has been lovely to meet everyone. It has been a bit nerve wracking for the past year. We’re like intimate strangers. Although we have just met, we have a connection. It’s going to take time to get to know each other.”
Perhaps the hardest part of the event has been being in the international news spotlight. The BBC interviewed the twins at their hotel in Fullerton and they have had almost a dozen requests for interviews from media outlets near and far.
“We’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a famous film star or royalty,” Hamel said, wrinkling up her face in fake disgust.
To seal their family bonds, Hamel gave Hunt a cameo that was passed down from her grandmother to her mother and to her.
Hamel’s English guests will be in the mid-valley until Friday. It was Hunt’s second visit to the states.
But while Hamel isn’t sure about traveling back to England any time soon, Hunt is keeping an open mind about a return trip to Oregon.
She had hoped to find a picture of her mother, but after 13 years of painstaking research by her daughter, has found a whole family.