'Couldn't believe it': Long-lost sisters reunited by DNA test

Two New Brunswick seniors have forged an unexpected friendship after a DNA test kit revealed they are long-lost sisters from Prince Edward Island.

Women lived in Bathurst and Saint John for decades, unaware of each other's existence

Saint Johner Gladys Craig, left, and Betty McMurray of Bathurst learned via the results of a DNA testing kit that they were long-lost sisters. The two were put up for adoption during the Great Depression. (Submitted by Nancy Craig)

Two New Brunswick women are forging an unexpected friendship — after a DNA test kit revealed they're long-lost sisters from Prince Edward Island.

Finding out about a sibling she'd never met was "like a dream," said Betty McMurray, 89. "It was hard to take, at first."

The sisters are part of a growing cohort of Canadians who have found previously-unknown relatives through DNA testing services, which use saliva samples to determine ancestry, and identify potential DNA matches with others who have taken the test. 

McMurray and her sister Gladys Craig, 87, were born on P.E.I. during the Great Depression.

The Cliff Street complex that housed St. Vincent's Orphanage, where both McMurray and Craig believed they lived before being put up for adoption. According to the Sisters, the Orphanage typically cared for older children. (Courtesy of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception Archives)

"It was hard times," McMurray said.

Both were sent as babies to a home for infants run by the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception in Saint John and put up for adoption.

From there, their lives took very different turns — and wouldn't intersect again for more than eight decades.

The women lived in Bathurst and Saint John for decades, unaware of each other's existence. 0:58

Family secrets

At 18 months old, McMurray believed she was adopted from St. Vincent's Orphanage by Andrew and Mary Frances McMurray of Bathurst — "wonderful" parents, she said, who "couldn't do enough for me."

According to Sr. Monica Plante of the Sisters of Charity, "given how young the women were when they were adopted," it is more likely "they would have been in St. Vincent's Infants Home on Coburg St."

The Infants Home cared for children up to two years old.

The St. Vincent's Infant's Home in Saint John, which cared for unmarried mothers and their babies until they could be put up for adoption. According to the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception, Berry McMurray and Gladys Craig were likely adopted from this facility on Coburg Street. (Submitted by the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception Archives)

Raised as an only child, she said, she longed as a child for a sister or a brother.

Once in Grade 1, a classmate teased her that she was adopted — which her parents staunchly denied.

"I couldn't get any proof," she said.

"But it bothered me."

Betty McMurray, left, went from believing she was 'alone in the world' to being introduced to grandniece Paige Frauley, centre, sister Gladys Craig, right, and niece Nancy Craig, standing. (Submitted by Nancy Craig)

Confirmation of who she was didn't come until McMurray was 45 years old, and needed her birth certificate to complete pension documents.

'That's the time when I had to approach my mother," McMurray said. "She … went upstairs and got the papers which were all hidden underneath the lining of a drawer."

Out of respect for the parents who raised her, McMurray didn't ask for more information about her biological parents.

She had a successful career working for Bathurst Power and Paper Company. She never married.

"I had the job at the mill, and a lot of friends," she said.

'I silently knew'

At six months old, McMurray's younger sister, Gladys Craig, was adopted by her maternal grandparents, Frank and Mary-Ann Gaudet.

She was raised on a farm in Chelton, P.E.I., in a family of 10: "a lot of brothers and sisters which I thought were mine," she said.

Her grandparents led her to believe that her mother — who lived in Charlottetown, and visited only occasionally — was her older sister.

Like McMurray, she always suspected there was a family secret. Once, while "being nosy" and looking around the house before her First Communion, she came across a baptismal certificate that had her name on it, and just one parent.

Betty McMurray as a baby. At 18 months old, she was adopted by 'wonderful' parents Andrew and Mary Frances McMurray of Bathurst. (Submitted by Nancy Craig)

"I never said anything," Craig said.  "I pretended. I lived my life as if she was my sister, but I knew different."

An aunt told her the truth when she was 18 years old and also informed her that her mother had given up another child for adoption.

But the aunt said she didn't know whether it was a boy or a girl.

We fell into one another's arms, hugged one another, and looked one another over to see if there was any resemblance. We seem to get along really well.- Betty McMurray

"We started looking at one point for this person, but it never come up," said Craig.

"We tried several times at the orphanage and different places, but we couldn't find her."

Craig went on to marry Danny Craig, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, had three children, and lived on military bases across Canada and Germany before she and her husband retired in Saint John in 1975.

'Couldn't believe' results

The two sisters lived on opposite sides of New Brunswick for decades, unaware of one another's existence.

In 2016, McMurray's friend, Sharon Gillis, helped her do a DNA test. To their disappointment, there were no matches for close relatives.

"I said, 'I wasn't under a cabbage leaf. There had to be somebody, somewhere.'"

Then, two years later and just a few hundred kilometres away in Saint John, Craig's family convinced her to do the Ancestry DNA test kit they'd purchased for Mother's Day.

A family photo of the day Gladys Craig, then six months old, was adopted by her maternal grandparents Frank and Mary-Ann Gaudet. Craig was raised believing that her grandparents were her parents and her biological mother was her older sister. (Julia Wright / CBC)

The results were entered in the online database, and events unfolded almost immediately.

"Sharon came running across the yard with this paper in her hand," McMurray said. "She said, 'I have results!' I couldn't believe it."

Gillis contacted Craig. The women arranged to meet in Moncton.

"She got out of the car and I was standing there with a dozen roses for her and she was quite amazed, I think," Craig said.

"We fell into one another's arms, hugged one another, and looked one another over to see if there was any resemblance," McMurray said. "We seem to get along really well."

Craig and McMurray met again on Thanksgiving, and Craig introduced McMurray to her nieces and great-nieces.

Additional research revealed McMurray and Craig had five more half-siblings, all of whom had already passed away.

McMurray and Craig have met twice since they learned they were sisters this summer. (Submitted by Nancy Craig)

A true connection

As McMurray plans to mark her 90th birthday in April, finding a new family has been an adjustment — but a positive one, according to both sisters.

They call each other a few times a week to chat.

"You have to sort of take your time with stuff like that," Craig said.

McMurray said she's grateful that she and Craig finally found one another.

"To be completely alone in the world as I am — it's been so many years that I didn't know them," said the elder sister. "It gave me a different feeling, like that there was a connection.

"It's almost like a story I'm reading," she said. "But it's me, not just a fiction."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Julia Wright is a reporter based in Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.