PARKMAN, Maine — A chance encounter on the social media network Facebook has resulted in the reunion of a British brother and sister after a 48-year separation.
Geoff Toone, 65, of Newhall, England, traveled to Parkman this month to visit his sister for the first time since she moved to the United States with her husband and four children in 1964.
His sister, Janet Washington, married an American who was stationed at a U.S. air base in England. The family moved to the United States when Washington’s husband was redeployed to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Toone was 9 at the time.
Toone and Washington lost contact with each other because both had been told by various family members that their sibling had died.
But all of that changed 18 months ago, when Toone’s wife, Susan, made contact with an American woman on Facebook. Susan Toone had knowledge about Toone’s family because she was doing research on ancestry.com. She knew her sister-in-law’s married name had been Reade, so it piqued her interest when she began conversing with an American woman who had Reade as a maiden name.
“Reade, that was your sister’s name?” she asked her husband. “We started putting questions back and back forth like siblings’ names and dates of births. We didn’t disclose much at first in case it was a hoax, but finally we found out it was true and his sister was still alive.”
As the years passed, Washington found it more difficult to keep up with her family in England. Her American family later moved to Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. Washington remarried and eventually ended up in Parkman.
In 1968, she received a letter from a family member informing her that Geoff Toone had died.
Washington tried unsuccessfully to reach her family by mail for more details about her brother’s death. She sent a letter to the return address shown on the envelope, but it was returned stamped “no such address.”
“Nobody was returning anything so I didn’t know what actually happened,” Washington said.
Once Washington and her brother realized that the other was still alive, it took another 18 months before the two were finally reunited in Portsmouth, N.H., where Washington’s family met the uncle who for most of them was a man they had only heard about.
“There was a lot of hugging and crying when we saw each other. It was like a miracle. We didn’t know what to do or say,” Washington said. “It was a time for everybody to get to know one another and seeing everybody for the first time.”
Toone, accompanied by his wife, went to Parkman for a two-week visit with Washington to reminisce about their lives together and update each other about what has happened since they last met in 1964. Geoff Toone didn’t have a lot of memories with his sister because he wasn’t very old when she left home.
Washington, now 74, left home a couple of times as a teenager before leaving for good at age 18. She married at age 21 and the two only heard about each other from family members after she moved to U.S.
During the two-week reunion, Washington planned on showing the Toones the sights around Piscataquis County, but the rainy weather forced them to stay inside for most of the visit.
“It worked out pretty well because we had 48 years to catch up on,” Washington said.
The siblings looked at family photographs that Washington hadn’t seen in decades. Her favorite was her parents’ wedding photograph with her mother dressed in a white gown and her father in his Royal Dragoon’s uniform of the British Army.
Geoff Toone’s favorite pictures were one of Washington wearing a black dress and a necklace and another of his sister and him on the beach in their swimsuits.
They had plenty of time to fill in the spaces of how their lives had progressed since they lost contact. One topic that still remains a mystery for the siblings is how their family members came to inform them wrongly of each other’s death.
Washington was informed by an elderly aunt in 1968 that Toone had died. Their mother told Toone about 30 years ago that his sister had died.
“I spoke to mother about it briefly and she told me my sister had died. I just accepted it and that was the end of the story as far as I was concerned until 18 months ago,” Toone said.
Following his mother’s death, he did discover some letters Washington wrote to her, but the envelopes with a return address were not located in the stack.
The Toones are planning to bring their daughter to Parkman for a visit next year. But Washington hasn’t made any plans to return to England. She said she would like to visit but has concerns about flying.