Ottawa

'The emptiness is gone': Man reunited with sisters, 6 decades after adoption

Barry Trafford always felt a part of him was missing — until 2 months ago, at the age of 65, he found out he had three sisters — who all had lived and worked in the same towns as him.

Port Elmsley, Ont., man and his sisters grew up in Smiths Falls, Ont., but never met

Barry Trafford was adopted when he was less than two years old. He never knew for certain that he had siblings until two months ago, when he saw a video on Facebook. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

He always felt a part of him was missing — at least, until two months ago.

That was when 65-year-old Barry Trafford of Port Elmsley, Ont., found out he had three sisters, and moreover, he had lived and worked in the same towns as all of them.

"I've always had an emptiness after my parents and brother died," said Trafford, who was separated from his sisters by child welfare authorities when he was 22 months old because of his parents' alcohol addictions.

"And when I found out about this, and we chatted and then we met, the emptiness was filled. It's wonderful. You can't really explain [in] words. Heartwarming. The emptiness is gone now."

Sister looking for brother since early 1980s

Trafford's two sisters were put into foster care, and he was adopted by another family. 

His sister, Diane Raphael, had been looking for her baby brother since the early 1980s.

But it wasn't until Raphael, now 71, posted a video on Facebook in February that she was able to reach him. 

At first, Trafford didn't think he was the brother Raphael was looking for. She was trying to find someone named "Donnie," which was — unbeknownst to Trafford at the time — his first name before he was adopted.

But his cousin checked into it, confirmed Trafford had the same birthday as the person Raphael was looking for, and within eight days they'd reconnected. 

"It was just fantastic.... Feels great now being able to say that I have sisters," said Trafford. "We won't be losing each other again. And I love them very much."

Barry Trafford with his sister, Diane Raphael. They met for the first time earlier this year after being separated for more than six decades. (Submitted by Barry Trafford)

Raphael, who now lives in Chemainus, B.C., on Vancouver Island, said the last time she'd seen her baby brother before their reunion was in 1955, when they were having lunch and he was in his high chair.

She said she'd always wondered what his life was like and if he was OK. 

"It just would never go away. And then, when I had my own children, I would mention [to them] what had happened," Raphael said.

"As my daughters got older, they started saying, 'You've got to find him.'"

Siblings all lived near each other, but never met

Trafford knew from the age of six he'd been adopted and always believed he had siblings out there. He did dig for information, but said it upset his adoptive mother, so he let it go.

After being separated, Trafford and his sisters all ended up growing up in Smiths Falls, Ont., but they never knew about each other.

Their mother later had another daughter, and Trafford said he never knew about her either — even though she lived in nearby Perth, Ont., where he worked. 

"It's crazy. You know, I could have bumped into them or I could have served one of them in the store or something, or helped one of them somewhere along the line," said Trafford. 

After finding each other online, the three sisters, Trafford and cousins all decided to meet last month in Perth. 

Trafford said when he first saw Raphael, he immediately knew she was his sister.

"Chills went through me," he said.

Barry Trafford says he's had a feeling of "emptiness" at times in his life — but meeting his sisters changed that. 1:35

Reunion was 'surreal'

Raphael said she also had chills, as well as emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety. 

"It was the first time I kind of knew [what] the word 'surreal' meant," Raphael said. "It wasn't something I thought would ever happen, so when it did, it was like, wow, here we go. It still feels like [sometimes] I can't quite believe that it actually happened — but I'm glad it did, that's for sure."

Trafford said reuniting with his sisters was especially significant, as his only adoptive brother died decades ago. 

Barry Trafford stands with his sisters Marlene Herenski (far left), Diane Raphael (second from left), and Elaine Evans (far right). The four reunited in February 2019, six decades after Trafford was put up for adoption. (Submitted by Barry Trafford)

"I was hoping … and sure enough it happened," he said. "It's a miracle, you know? Like all these years, and all the people in the world, and Facebook, social media finally brought it to life." 

Trafford hopes his story inspires others to reach out to long-lost family members. 

"We haven't stopped texting, even video chatting ... I even got to meet my great-nephews and nieces through video chat," he said.

"Don't hesitate in trying to find them, because it'll change your life forever."

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

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