In its six years on air, Long Lost Family has reunited hundreds of relatives around the world. It’s a guaranteed weepy, leaving even the most stony-hearted viewer with a lump in the throat. Each family’s story has its own unexpected trajectory, and there is the risk of heartbreak and disappointment at every turn. But the reunions – sometimes remarkable, and always affecting – are only the beginning.
Once the final credits roll, there’s a lifetime to catch up on – and for some families the story unfolds long after the cameras have left.
Take Ron Williams, who, with the help of the show, found his sister Christine in 2015 after more than 60 years apart. Their mother, a divorcée, struggled to cope with the scandal, at that time in rural north Wales, of giving birth to the two children out of wedlock, so they went to live with their grandparents. But after they died, when Ron was six and Christine four, Ron was returned to their mother – who began telling people he was an only child. He only later learnt Christine had been adopted, but never felt he could ask any more.
All those years later, with the help of Long Lost Family, he discovered she had emigrated to New Zealand in the 1960s. The bond they formed on being reunited was instant. It’s a wonderful, happy ending – or it would be, if it were the end of the story. But it isn’t.
Ron and Christine have since found two other children their mother had by another man – their half-siblings, Noreen and John, who had previously had no knowledge of them. “I knew I had siblings from a young age,” says Ron, now 75.
“My mum always spoke of them, especially of Christine, who I remember and went to school with, but I had no recollection of the other two at all – just their names. Mum would sometimes say, ‘I wonder where Wayne and Lynn are now.’”
Together at last, in New Zealand: long-separated siblings John, Christine, Noreen and Ron
Wayne and Eluned, it turned out, were their middle names. The decision to search for his younger siblings was one Ron agonised over – he was the child his mother chose to keep, and he had no idea how the others might respond.
“It made me feel terrible – and guilty. That’s why it took me until so late in my life to look for them. When I first started to search for Christine, I thought, ‘If I’d been adopted, and our mum had chosen to keep her, how would I feel?’ I know I couldn’t have done anything about it, but it was with me a very long time. It was a huge relief when I found out that Christine bore no grudges at all.”
Neither did Noreen and John, who were discovered in Australia and New Zealand. But sadly that reunion brought pain as well as joy. It turned out the pair had been abused by their father and left to fend for themselves, before eventually being taken into care. “It was horrible and very difficult to hear,” Ron says.
Happily, though, the four built a remarkable connection straight away: they are now in regular contact via phone, email and Skype, and Ron is planning a trip to Australia and New Zealand soon.
“I’ve gone from one sibling to four within two years – it’s wonderful,” he says tearfully. “It’s made such a difference to all of our lives. John’s wife comes on the phone and tells me he’s a changed man – and he’s never been so happy in his life.”
Despite the years of uncertainty, Ron is now able to find sympathy for his mum. “I went through bits of my life where I was angry with her, thinking, ‘Why should I have been kept?’ Now, my only wish is that I’d searched for my siblings sooner. If we’d found each other ten years ago, I’m sure we’d be able to see a lot more of each other.”
Long Lost Family: What Happened Next is on Tuesday 9.00pm ITV