The extraordinary tale of how a Bentham mum found her long-lost son - and a whole new family in Australia!

The fascinating story of a Bentham mother's search for her long-lost son is told here by Shirley Brown.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 26th August 2021, 3:45 pm
Issy with photos of her newly-found son Keith and granddaughter Kym. Photo by Angela Bowskill
Issy with photos of her newly-found son Keith and granddaughter Kym. Photo by Angela Bowskill

Once upon a time, an attractive young woman called Isabel Staveley became pregnant. When her time came to have the baby, she went to Homesteads Nursing Home in Melling and gave birth to a son.

She loved her son and named him George. But she was not allowed to keep him, or even to hold him, and he was taken from her to be adopted. She was told that she would soon forget him and should just get on with her life.

That was in 1955 in Britain, when to be unmarried and pregnant was very different to today. At that time young mothers were told that if they really loved their babies, they would give them up for adoption.

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Issy chatting to Kyn via Zoom. Photo by Angela Bowskill

This was considered to be in the best interests of the mother and the child, and the mother should want their child to be raised by a respectable married couple, not under the shadow of illegitimacy.

This might seem strange and unbelievable to anyone born since the 1980s. But Isobel was one of a large but still unknown number of unmarried women throughout Britain who were coerced into handing over their newborns for adoption between the 1950s and the late 1970s.

There was little understanding then of the lifelong grief and distress that this would cause to the women concerned.

Isabel, now known as Issy, did get on with her life. She stayed in the Bentham area, working on the family farm until 1962 when “Cinderella eventually met her prince” and she married a farmer, a kind man, John Carr, 17 years her senior.

Kym and Keith reunited.

John always said he would have taken in Issy’s son and brought him up as his own. They did not have any children, but both worked hard, made a living from the farm and were happy in the home where she still lives, Lowther Hill. John died in 1991.

Back last year when I asked Issy what her perfect day would look like, she answered without hesitation that it would be if she could find out anything about her son’s life.

She told me she, and many other good friends and family members, had tried lots of ways but had always drawn a blank…until now!

Family members Janet Staveley, who lives in Tatham, and Angela Bowskill, who lives in Hornby, decided to search using DNA rather than adoption records.

Issy's cat Bonnie. Photo by Angela Bowskill

Over Christmas lunch in 2018 Janet and her husband Andrew suggested putting Isobel’s DNA into ancestry.com to find her son.

In March 2019 Janet helped Issy put her DNA using saliva samples into the ancestry.com database.

This database uses microarray-based autosomal DNA testing, which surveys a person’s entire genome at more than 700,000 locations worldwide.

In November 2019, Kym Fernando, a 43-year-old woman living in Perth, Australia, put her DNA into ancestry.com trying to find her biological father.

Kym Fernando, Isabel’s granddaughter, took this photo of her own cat Bonnie.

In January 2021 a close match was discovered between the DNA of these two women, Kym and Issy.

Angela then used Facebook to check Kym’s profile and find out more about her and could see immediately that there were strong family physical resemblances. Janet and Angela realised they might have hit the jackpot!

In February 2021, Janet and Angela used social media to connect with Kym, and in March 2021 Issy was able to have a Zoom call with Kym. Wouldn’t it have been great to be a fly on the wall when that conversation took place!

Both Kym and Issy were very excited and through the wonders of modern IT were able to see and talk to each other on Angela’s iPad.

Issy and Kym chatted about all sorts of things and soon discovered that they had a similar sense of humour, and by an amazing coincidence that each of them had a much-loved cat who they’d called Bonnie.

Janet and Angela then took the very wise decision that to make absolutely certain that this was indeed a long-lost family member, to commission a second DNA test from a different company.

In April 2021 this showed a 99.59 per cent match, confirming with absolute certainty that Issy is Kym’s grandmother. So, Kym had found her grandmother and Issy had found family who she hadn’t even known existed.

Kym had been brought up by her mum and stepdad. Although her biological father had not been involved in her upbringing, she was now keen to find him.

If the fairy story had stopped there it would have been wonderful, but the family had only just got started! If this miracle could happen, maybe they could go further and actually find Issy’s son/Kym’s dad.

They knew he was no longer George Staveley but was Keith Garrahy. Using all the information they had between them, Angela made a ‘Looking for Keith’ poster.

This was posted on social media and shared throughout Perth, and replies started coming in from people who remembered him, and in particular they remembered his car!

Excitement mounted. Remember that at this point no one knew whether he was alive or dead, in Australia or any other country in the world.

A trawl through records at the library revealed a possible address for Keith. Kym, with her husband Jamie, decided to check out whether this was where her dad, who she’d not seen since she was two years old, more than 40 years ago, now lived.

On May 11 2021 they drove to the address and knocked on the door…probably with a mix of emotions – excitement, anticipation, anxiety.

The door opened, and there was Keith. He later said that before he opened the door, he was a single man on his own, but that, in a moment, he became a father, a grandfather (Kym has two children) and, heart-wrenchingly, a son: “I’ve got a mum”.

A few days later, on May 15 2021, Janet and Angela set up a Zoom call between Issy, Keith and Kym. Issy had found her son!

If this is a fairy story, then that really is the end of a chapter. But maybe there are more chapters to be written?

The Zoom call revealed that Keith had spent some of his childhood at Ivy Cottage, Kearstwick, near Kirkby Lonsdale.

So, after the call Janet and Angela drove Issy to visit the cottage.

Keith, now 66, probably went to Dallam School. He has a sister (also adopted) and a brother. In 1970, at age 15, he left school, and the whole family relocated to Australia.

Both his adopted parents are now dead. Keith has no children, other than Kym. He’s applying for a passport, and when Covid restrictions allow, he’s coming over to meet his mum Issy, now 86, and the rest of the family. The story continues!

Issy's niece Angela said: "Although my Aunt Isabel finds it difficult to forgive her own mother, my grandmother's actions were well-intentioned and made in the best interests of her eldest daughter.

"In 1955 it was difficult to meet and marry someone if you were an unwed single mother, baby in tow with the father unknown.

"My grandmother was a good woman, kind and hard-working, and she arranged an adoption for the baby so that Isabel would have the best chance possible in life.

"Thankfully, Aunt Isabel did go on to marry someone respectable and she had a happy marriage, but the marriage yielded no children.

"So something good has come out of all of this. Aunt Isabel will get to finally hold and hug her son (once Covid restrictions are over and they can travel from Australia), and we as a family are extremely delighted at finding a new cousin, Keith, and niece, Kym Fernando."