Twins reunited after 78 years

Posted at 6:22 AM, May 06, 2014

(CNN) -- In 1936, a pregnant single woman in England made the difficult decision to give up one of her newborns, separating fraternal twins.

It would be 78 years before the girls were reunited.

The two women, now living on different continents, found each other when the daughter of one made a surprising discovery during some genealogical research. Her mother, Ann Hunt, had a twin sister she never knew about.

The daughter, Samantha Stacey, wrote a letter to a woman in Oregon, asking if she was born in Aldershot, England. Elizabeth Hamel called England and said she was. In moments, she was speaking to her very long-lost sister.

After a year of calling on Skype and getting to know each other, the two finally met on May 1 in California, a long way from Aldershot, where they were born to a mother who worked as a live-in servant.

Alice Lamb was a cook and the girls' father -- a man named Peters who never met the twins -- was in the British Army, the BBC reported. Hamel said she was born with a curvature of the spine, the reason Lamb kept that daughter. She couldn't afford to keep both of them.

Hamel, who lived with an aunt for the first years of her life, said she had been told as a child that she had a sister. But she knew it would be difficult to find her, especially since her twin likely changed her name when she got married. And she had no idea if her sister had moved from Aldershot, as she had done.

When they saw each other for the first time, Hunt was overwhelmed.

"I couldn't speak. I was so happy," she said Monday. "It's like you're dreaming. Even now I have to pinch myself."

The twins don't look much alike and say they have different personalities. But during an interview with CNN, they did act like sisters, sometimes bickering lovingly and sometimes finishing the sentence for the other.

Hunt said she is normally more talkative, and Hamel is the more sensible one. They both said they lead very busy lives, which will make staying in touch, already complicated because of the eight-hour time difference, a bit difficult.

They share at least one trait, though, Hunt insisted.

"We use our hands in a similar manner," she said.

Hamel said that while they may not look the same in the face, they have the same feet.

They also discovered they married men with the same first name (and same last initial).

When they reunited Hamel looked for similarities.

"You think, this is someone like me," said Hamel, who is 20 minutes older.

Both were raised as the only child in the family, though Hunt had no idea she had a twin until her daughter told her last year.

The two have exchanged gifts, something common among reunited twins, said Nancy Segal, a psychology professor at Cal State Fullerton and author of four books about twins.

"These are the kinds of things that twins do for each other but here they have do those gifts a little bit more because they have to make up for all those years that they didn't share one another's lives," she said.

Segal became involved with these twins when Hamel's son wrote her an email about the unique case. She interviewed Hamel and Hunt to see how environment affects twins who are raised apart.

She said fraternal twins are less likely to be close friends and don't stay in contact as closely as identical twins.

After spending a few days in the Los Angeles area, the twins are heading to Oregon to catch up some more, Segal said.

On 78 years.

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