New Brunswick

How uncovering a family's 80-year secret reunited these 2 long-lost brothers

When Sandy Hargraves started digging into her family tree, she never thought she'd unlock a family secret and reunite her dad with his long lost half-brother.

Men lived in Saint John, N.B., for decades without knowing they shared a father

Half-brothers Byron Williamson, left, and Thomas Hargraves both lived in Saint John for decades without knowing it. (Submitted by Sandy Hargraves)

Nobody ever talked about Thomas Hargraves's dad growing up.

The Saint John man figured long ago that if his dad had left before he knew him, he didn't care to find out more.

But the mystery always bothered his daughter.

So late last year, Sandy Hargraves started digging into her family tree. Not only did she discover the story of her Cape Breton grandfather, but she also found her dad's half-brother — a sibling he never knew existed.

Byron Williamson, left, is shown with his niece, Sandy Hargraves. (Submitted by Sandy Hargraves)

And the two brothers — now in their 80s — both own businesses in Saint John and unknowingly lived just minutes away from one another for more than 30 years.

"Everybody knew of both of them, but the two of them knew not of each other," said Sandy Hargraves, who lives in Saint Andrews, N.B.

Happy reunion

The search began with a 23andMe DNA test.

Sandy's test came back with unaccounted for Scottish heritage and a long list of DNA matches. 

She got in touch with a second-cousin from Cape Breton she never knew she had, and together, the two women started piecing together the puzzle.

Thomas Hargraves is shown on his 81st birthday. (Submitted by Sandy Hargraves)

One name in particular took Sandy's breath away: Thomas Williamson.

Her dad's full name is Thomas William Hargraves. 

Before she knew it, she'd tracked down one of Thomas Williamson's children: Byron Williamson. But a letter addressed to him sat unsent on her desk for weeks before she got up the nerve to mail it last February. 

"I knew I was dropping a huge bomb on him about his father, which could have turned out completely awful," she said. "Luckily for us, he was incredibly happy about the news."

Before Sandy could arrange a visit, Williamson had driven down the street and knocked on the door of his half-brother.

"Lucky enough, we were both living," he said with a laugh.  "It was just fantastic, really. Tommy is such a nice guy."

Bittersweet past

But uncovering the mystery has been bittersweet. 

Sandy and her dad learned that Thomas Williamson, a veteran of the Cape Breton Highlanders, had returned from the war and met Hargraves's mother, Evelyn Hargreaves (she spelled her surname differently), a single woman living in Pictou, N.S.

He, meanwhile, was married with kids.

Thomas Williamson is the father of Byron Williamson and Thomas Hargraves. The two half-brothers, both in their 80s, met for the first time earlier this year. (Sandy Hargraves)

"You grow up without a father — it's not the easiest thing to do," said Hargraves, who was raised by his mom. "You have no one to take you to the ball games or anything like that. But mom was a good person."

Williamson said he was only vaguely aware of his father's affair as a kid, but didn't piece it together until he met his half-brother. He regrets that the reunion didn't happen sooner.

While Hargraves comes from a small family, Williamson had other siblings, now deceased.

"My other siblings, like Betty and Margaret and Tom and Joe, haven't been gone that long and they would have just thought the world of him," Williamson said.

Even if Hargraves didn't want to meet his dad growing up, he said he always wondered why he left. 

Since cracking the mystery, Sandy Hargraves said while they still don't know the answer to every question, they can begin to answer that one. 

"You understand that they couldn't be together," she said. "Obviously he could not leave his family, even if he wanted to."

Remembering Evelyn

Everyone tells the brothers they look alike, and Hargraves, a well-known mechanic in Saint John, said he may have even inherited some other qualities from his father. 

"Apparently he was a good man, or a hard-working man," said Hargraves. "So I guess maybe that's where some of his work ethic rubbed off on me."

The two brothers visit one another when they can, but they both said it's Sandy who seems to do the most visiting. The youngest child in her family, she's always been nosy — a character trait everyone is thankful for now.

Evelyn Hargreaves (her name is spelled differently than her son's) on the right with her two olders sisters, Ella and Rita. (Submitted by Sandy Hargraves)

For her, finding a new family has her thinking a lot about the grandmother she always knew. Evelyn Hargreaves died a few years ago, at the age of 102.

Sandy Hargraves likes to think she did find love — it just happened to be the wrong man.

"There's probably a big sigh in heaven where my grandmother is going, 'Oh, finally someone put it together!'"

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca

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