Cape Town - It reads like a movie script.
A 69-year-old Cape Town man found his two biological sisters living in the United Kingdom who he never knew existed. It was all thanks to DNA and a twist of fate.
For years Bernadette Hansen wondered about her ancestry and ethnicity.
Hansen, originally from Cape Town, now lives in Norway with her husband and daughter. She decided to do a DNA test via a site called My Heritage DNA.
The site reveals your ethic background and zones in on any relatives you are related to via DNA if they too had taken the test.
Hansen discovered a man named Anthony McGoldrick-Small living in the UK, had also done the test, and that they were, in fact, cousins.
“I took the test in February 2021 and on March 25 I got my results. Turns out I had 11 different ethnicities such as 30.7% Irish Scottish Welsh, 23.1% South Asian, 18.8% North and West European, 6.3% Kenyan,” she said.
Hansen said because the site shows DNA matches, she saw that she was matched with McGoldrick-Small, and it showed that this was a first or second cousin.
“I did not recognise his name and it said he was from the UK. I then decided to send him a message through the site and ask him if he had any relation to Eric Thorley,” she said.
Hansen could not help her curiosity as she was told by her father, Trevor Eric Leibrandt that his father was Eric Thorley who worked for the British Royal Navy and came to Simon’s Town on the HMS Bermuda during the 1950s.
Leibrandt knew very little about his father’s life. “My mother worked as a domestic in the Fish Hoek area and I was placed with three different foster families, and around age 16, my aunt told me my father’s name and that he was in the British Navy,” he said.
Hansen explained her father had attempted to find out more information nearly 20 years ago, but was unsuccessful.
“My grandmother did not want to talk about him and he got the information from his aunt. He always wondered about his father and in early 2000 even asked some family friends who were from the UK to look into it for him, but got nowhere with it.
Hansen said McGoldrick-Small revealed her father had two sisters, one living in Scotland, the other in England, and shipping records showed Eric had been in Cape Town, Simon’s Town in 1951 when her father was born, and travelled to SA until 1957.
“My grandfather had spent most of his adult life in Plymouth and died there in 2006. He said I have two aunts (my dad's half-sisters),” said Hansen.
“One sister named Linda lives in the South Coast of England and the other is Susan and she lives in Scotland. He (McGoldrick-Small) told them the news and they were very shocked to hear about my dad. Their father had never mentioned that he had a son before and they did not even know he had been to South Africa. Linda’s first words to her son Anthony was ’I always wanted an older brother’.
“The most telling is that he took special shore leave in Simon’s Town (the ship left) five days after my dad was born, for two months. He also took more special leave the following year in 1952. He changed ships but the records show that the ship would have stopped by Simon’s Town a few more times till around 1957,” she said.
Hansen said they began a family chat where everyone exchanged photographs.
Leibrandt said he felt happy to have his sisters and gave each one a South African name.
“I have always been a loner and now I have two sisters, I said to Linda ’you need a South African name, which is Lindiwe’ and now she uses it during our chats and Susan is Sisiwe,” he said.
The sisters have asked only to be identified via their first names.
Linda “Lindiwe” said she was thrilled to have an older brother, though it was a huge and pleasant surprise.
“Funnily, I had always wanted a big brother as I only had a baby sister. It’s amazing that via technology we’ve been able to find each other, not knowing that either of us existed before. I’m looking forward to learning more about everyone and hopefully one day in the future we can all meet,” Linda said.
Leibrandt’s nephew, McGoldrick-Small said it was through fate that he had found their family as he had taken the DNA test to find his biological father. “It was a huge surprise finding family in South Africa as there was no mention of it before.
“‘It was, however, very exciting to know that there was this new extension of family, especially when seeing photos of Trevor (Leibrandt) as I could see the similarity in my granddad straight away.
“I myself am in a similar situation as Trevor was, as I do not know my birth father which is why I undertook three different DNA tests.
“Therefore, finding the family in South Africa has given me a slight hope that maybe one day there will also be a DNA match for myself on my paternal side,” he said.