This Hamilton family didn't know they had another sister. Now they're trying to find her

Four women in Hamilton grew up thinking they were sisters, but found out one of them is actually a first cousin. They then learned they have a long-lost sister, and are now trying to find her.

A DNA test unravelled a string of family secrets and spurred search for long-lost sister

Andrea Richard, Lori Richard, Simone Cameron and Shelley Kay grew up as sisters in Hamilton. A single DNA test revealed a long-lost sibling. (Submitted by Simone Cameron)

They know when she was born, what she looked like, when she was adopted and all sorts of facts about the people who raised her.

Now, this Hamilton family just needs to find her — because she's their long-lost sister, and she may not even know it.

Andrea Richard, Simone Cameron, Shelley Kay and Lori Richard grew up as sisters in the Ontario city's east end.

"We were a normal, Catholic family," Kay, 47, said in a call with her siblings on Thursday.

They all attended Holy Family Elementary School before going to different high schools and eventually moving to different cities.

But they didn't realize their lives weren't as normal as they seemed.

'Ground was pulled out from underneath me'

In January, Andrea, the eldest, underwent a DNA test.

Her family tree wasn't what she knew it to be. She learned she had a half-brother.

"I thought maybe my dad had another family," said the 52-year-old, who's a Hamilton police sergeant.

But Andrea and the others couldn't go to her parents with questions because they both died years ago.

"It would've been nice to have those conversations with them, but we didn't, and nobody wanted to talk about it, so I think we all felt we've been robbed of that chance," Cameron, 51, said with tears in her eyes.

Andrea sent the results to her sisters. But she didn't know they were sitting on a massive secret they only learned weeks earlier.

Andrea Richard, a police sergeant in Hamilton, thought she grew up with her three sisters. But that changed after the January DNA test. (Submitted by Andrea Richard)

Kay and Richard said they were sorting through some of their late mother's belongings in December.

They found adoption papers — for Andrea.

"Although we knew her as our sister for all these years, she's actually our first cousin," said Kay.

After Andrea told them about her half-brother, they revealed she was adopted.

"It was like the ground was pulled out from underneath me ... I was in complete shock," she said.

But Kay and Richard uncovered more while digging through their mom's things.

'Oh my God, mom had another baby'

"We also found a set of baby boy bracelets in my mother's items and a hospital bracelet she would've wore with a letter M on it, for male. And we thought, 'Oh my God, mom had another baby,'" said Kay.

They began calling cemeteries and other places looking for answers, but Kay said nothing turned up.

On a whim, she said they tried to find out if the child was adopted, and contacted the Hamilton Catholic Children's Aid Society.

"A day later, I got a reply saying yes, in fact my mother had given up a daughter in 1964. At that point, I said to my sisters, 'Are you ready for this?'" said Kay.

They had a long-lost sister.

WATCH | Sisters react to learning about their long-lost sister:

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While the family doesn't know what happened to the boy, they began looking for the baby girl and details began to surface.

The family said their mother was 19 when she gave birth on May 15, 1964, in Hamilton.

The baby girl weighed five pounds nine ounces, with dark brown eyes, very fair skin and medium brown hair. Her last name at birth was Finnan and her first name may be Joanne.

Some other facts the family say they know include:

  • She was baptized in Hamilton on May 25, 1964, at St Patrick's Catholic Church.
  • Her adoption was finalized in March 1965.
  • Her adopted father was a technology supervisor of a large company and her adopted mother was a payroll assistant. They were both born in the 1930s.
  • She lived just outside Hamilton and had an adopted brother who was 18 months older than her.

"There's probably a chance that we crossed paths at some point growing up," said Cameron.

They've been posting whatever information they can on their Facebook group.

The search continues but questions remain

The search is on, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

"I just want to know who she is ... does she know who her dad is, is she healthy and doing OK, and do we have any nieces and nephews, and the bonus on top of it would be she wants to develop a relationship," said Kay.

"It's like reading three-quarters of a book and not finishing it."

Kay and her sister Lori discovered Andrea's adoption papers and a bracelet that revealed their mother had another child. (Submitted by Shelley Kay)

Some of those questions are even about their own identities.

"You grew up one way, and then all of a sudden it's like, 'Wow, OK, maybe not,'" said Cameron.

"I was joking with Andrea, and Lori and Shelley [about how] I got pregnant at 16 and I said to them, 'Look at all the grief I got when I got pregnant, and that would've been an ideal time for someone to say something but did they? No.'"

Evelyn Richard and daughter Simone Cameron. Richard died in 2017 and three years later, her daughters discovered they had a long-lost sister who was born with Evelyn's maiden name, Finnan. (Submitted by Shelley Kay)

Cameron and Richard both did tests to confirm they are who they think they are. So far, no more surprises.

Kay said she's still waiting for her results. But they said it's brought them all closer together.

"I'm still invited to the family reunion," joked Andrea.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.