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How one woman’s search back in time helped her husband move forward with long-lost family

Gordon McMillan is all smiles as he poses with his half-sister Mary Morris, left, and his wife, Lyn, just moments after Morris stepped off a plane in Halifax and they met in person for the first time.
Gordon McMillan is all smiles as he poses with his half-sisters Mary Morris, left, and Liz, just moments after Morris stepped off a plane in Halifax and they met in person for the first time. - Contributed

Lyn McMillan has helped reunite lost families before. But the search of her lifetime brought her husband Gordon the biggest gift anyone could ever give him: the family he never knew he had.  

As spring was turning into summer back in 2011, Lyn and Gordon were at their camp in Hubbards when they witnessed a woman nearby excitedly reacting to news that she herself had been found by lost family. 

“This suddenly sparked something in Gordon,” says McMillan. “He looked at me and said ‘can you do that?’” 

She’d asked him many times before if he wanted to search for family, especially after his mother passed away in August 2001, but he was never interested.  

He was an only child. His father left before he turned one year old and was never heard from again. McMillan says although Gordon had never spoken a harsh word about his father or the situation, he had no interest in finding his father. But he wanted to know if he had siblings. 

As a volunteer working with Parent Finders of Nova Scotia, helping birth mothers and adoptees find each other, McMillan was no stranger to searching for lost family. 

Starting with wedding photos that were torn in half and a newspaper clipping Gordon inherited after his mother’s death, McMillan began her search. For a year, she spent hours every day and every night on the phone and online, searching the world over. 

Through a series of deeds, registries and certificates, taking her across Nova Scotia to Windsor, ON, through British Columbia, to Edinburgh, Scotland and the eastern US, the search finally landed in Australia. She’d discovered Gordon’s father and his new family had taken part in the General Passage Scheme. 

“People were offered their way paid in full and would have all the benefits in Australia without becoming full citizens,” she says. 

No one knew why the family decided to go, and they were never heard from again. 

McMillan then continued a paper trail across Australia and finally, after a year of searching, found a woman named Mary Morris at Darwin University. She was Gordon’s half-sister.

Making connections

Not surprisingly, Gordon was apprehensive to call up a stranger a world away to say he believed she was his sister, but he needn’t have worried. Not only was Mary ecstatic to be found, she’d already tried to hunt him down herself two years earlier, as their father was developing dementia. 

“Our father asked her to locate me as he wanted to say he was sorry,” says Gordon. “Mary called several locations in the Halifax area and, in the end, was told that I had died.”

Their father died shortly after Mary received that information. 

“Those were the only words he spoke towards him from the time he left when Gordon was seven or eight months old until he died,” says McMillan. “So there’s been lots of heart ache, but it’s amazing how they’ve stayed in touch.” 

Along with Mary, another sister named Liz and a brother, Bruce, were brought into Gordon’s life. Sadly, Liz lost a battle to cancer two years after the connection was made. While they’ve talked on the phone, there have been no further attempts by Bruce to develop a relationship. 

When Mary received that call from her half-brother, she was about to book a trip to Japan. She promptly changed her plans, and just three weeks later, she and Liz touched down in Halifax in May 2012. 

“It all happened so fast,” says McMillan. “We were waiting at the airport and we didn’t even know who we were looking for.”  

The siblings had an incredible three days together. They spent one sightseeing, and the rest of their time pouring over the binders of family history McMillan has compiled.

Mary again flew to Halifax to surprise her brother on his 70th birthday in 2014, and returned again to celebrate her own 65th birthday this month. The pair also met up in Hawaii in 2016. 

“That trip was probably the best time in our relationship,” says Gordon. “We spent lots of quality time learning about each other and just being together meant so much to both of us.” 

It was meaningful for MacMillan as well.

“It’s been an emotional and exciting thing to do, especially when I finally tracked them down,”  says McMillan.”It was complicated. I learnt a lot, and had a few people hang up on me. Several times,” she laughs.  

“I’ve united people before, but never like this, when you’re connected. They were strangers when they met, and family for the future.”

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