It would be overwhelming, incomprehensible and astounding.
But Sandra Cale, 76, of Waterlooville, would describe it simply as ‘incredible’.
Throughout her life, Sandra never knew her father and understood she was a GI baby. But in April 2021, she connected with her long-lost siblings in Michigan, USA, after her daughter, Tina Gurd, tracked them down via genealogy website Ancestry.com and Facebook.
It has been a very emotional journey for the Portsmouth family, which has gained more than 40 family members in the space of eight weeks. But it has filled a part of Sandra’s family jigsaw which she could never find.
Born to Adelaide Lane in Queens Road, Buckland, Sandra grew up with her sister, Cynthia, who was eight years older than her. Adelaide was widowed in 1941 when her husband, Cyril, died in HMS Hood. But until the age of 22, Sandra believed her father was also Cyril, like her sister Cynthia.
Tina, 49, explains: ‘My mum, Sandra, needed her birth certificate to get married. This is where the story starts.
‘Adelaide sat my mum down and said she had something to tell her. She explained Cyril was not her biological father and that she became pregnant during a relationship with a man called George Edberg, who was in the United States Army in 1944.
‘George then returned to the USA and Adelaide never heard from him again.’
Sandra adds: ‘I felt relief when my mum, Adelaide, told me I was a GI baby. It was nice knowing I had a father somewhere but I was equally shocked knowing it wasn’t Cyril.’
Tina says: ‘I don’t think my mum dwelled much on the fact Cyril wasn’t her dad. To her, it was the norm.’
It wasn’t until Adelaide died in 1984 that Sandra discovered her mum had tried to contact George. Sandra says: ‘I was going through her paper work and came across some papers and a photograph of a man in an American army uniform, standing with my mum and another unknown lady.
‘The papers were letters from the army welfare services. It turns out that Adelaide had tried to contact George in relation to her pregnancy.’
Dated February 21, 1945, Adelaide received a letter from Lt Colonel Bevis, of Southsea, via army welfare services regarding Pte George Edberg.
‘It stated that George said he did not know her, he was not responsible for her condition, that he was already married and he was not going to support the child,’ says Tina.
In 1992, Sandra decided she would try to find her father, George.
A few letters were exchanged with the US Senate which disclosed that George Edberg died seven years previously in 1985.
George and Adelaide had died just 10 months apart.
However, Sandra found an address for his widow, Gladys, in Michigan and wrote to her. She never heard back.
Sandra says: ‘I understand it must have been such a shock for Gladys to receive that letter.
‘When I didn’t hear back, I felt mixed emotions. It would have been great if she replied, but I totally understood.’
What triggered Tina’s interest in her family history was a school history project when she was 12. Sandra told Tina the truth about her father – Tina’s grandfather – which she found very exciting.
But it wasn’t until years later that Tina started searching for long-lost family members on behalf of her mum Sandra.
‘I have always been aware of the history of my mum and man, so in 2006 I took the opportunity and registered with Ancestry.com.
‘I had details about George, his wife and his parents as this information was available on the death certificate, but unfortunately, I was unable to find any children or siblings for George or Gladys.’
Again, it looked like the trail had gone cold.
Tina tried again in 2015, expanding the scale of her search by registering on the website for worldwide access, but to no avail.
Fast forward to March this year, and Tina reactivates her account on Ancestry.com. On looking at the family tree for George and Gladys she found a page of remembrance for Gladys – she had died in 2015.
On noticing a picture of Gladys had been posted by a Donna Edberg, she dug deeper, finding another picture of Gladys holding a young child.
‘This was so exciting, as that meant that there was a possibility that this child may be a grand or great-grandchild, which meant that she had children herself,’ says Tina. Tina’s husband Tony then found Donna on Facebook as well.
‘I had not told my mum any of the information that I had found out as I did not want to get her hopes up, so I took it upon myself to contact Donna on both Ancestry.com and Facebook.’
Tina sent the messages on March 25, and within a week Donna replied.
Tina says: ‘Donna informed me that her husband was Ed Edberg and that he had three siblings.
‘She also confirmed that the family were aware of my mum’s letter and that another brother Robert had actually sent a reply to the original letter a few years later.
‘Unfortunately, my mum never received this letter as she had moved house. Robert had been looking for my mum on and off over 19 years and even did a DNA test in hope that my mum had done the same.’
Incredibly the Edbergs had even been intending to come to the UK hunting for Sandra until Covid put paid to that plan.
‘As my friendship developed with Donna, I was able to find out that my mum also had two sisters and that my mum was the eldest.
‘I went to see my mum and sat her down and explained that I had kept a secret from her and that I needed to tell her the truth but once I had said what I needed to say it couldn’t be taken back.
‘So, I told her from start to finish, my mum was shocked, overwhelmed, happy and gobsmacked but I explained that only a DNA test would confirm things and not to get her hopes up.’
Emails and old photos began to fly back and forward across the Atlantic, with both sides able to see a clear family likeness.
Sandra and Robert shared a video call on April 10, which Tina describes as ‘emotional, heartfelt and welcoming, and relationships were starting to build’.
Tina and Sandra took DNA tests, with the results matching Robert and Sandra as half-siblings.
Tina’s results matched with George Edberg on Ancestry.com as first cousins – Ed and Donna’s son.
‘In a space of eight weeks,’ says Tina, ‘with siblings, their children and their grandchildren we had gained over 40 new members of our family! My mum had gone from being one of two children to one of six.’
The families are now in regular contact. Donna has forged a close bond with Donna, in particular.
Tina says: ‘She has been such a support and help throughout this, without her I would not be telling this story.
‘We have received such love and acceptance from all of them and now my mum feels complete and for that I will be forever grateful and in debt to my new aunties and uncles.’
The next step now is to meet in person, and to that end, Tina and her family are saving to fly to Michigan as soon as possible.
‘This story proves you should never give up hope,’ adds Tina.
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.
You can subscribe here for unlimited access to our online coverage, including Pompey, for 27p a day.