The 100 year-old secret sister

The 100 year-old secret sister

A week after her 100th birthday, New Zealander Iris Lonergan decided it was time to tell her family a secret she had kept for 90 years – “I think I was adopted.”

The stunning revelation sparked a hunt for any surviving siblings.  However, Iris’ sons, Ray and Ted Lonergan, didn’t have much to go on – just a certificate showing their mother’s date of birth and no other details.

Amazingly, their search eventually led to 89 year-old Merle Coleman, Iris’ half-sister.  Iris and Merle were completely unaware of each other’s existence, and it was Ray who made the call to a shocked Merle to tell her she had a 100 year-old sister.

Their search revealed that Iris’ birth mother, Bretta Collard, was aged 26 when Iris was born in the Waikato town of Cambridge in 1913.  Bretta then gave her up for adoption.  While Iris was christened Iris Rosetta by her adoptive parents, she was surprised to discover that her birth mother had named her Enid Merle.  The fact that Bretta named her second daughter Ena Merle 11 years later was perhaps an indication that her first child was never far from her thoughts.

Iris recalls that her parents once revealed she was adopted:  “I remember standing by the kitchen sink.  I’d have been 10 or 12.  It was never brought up again.  You just never thought anything about it.”

As an only child, Iris’ parents made her work hard, “but”, she said, “I was lucky not to be awfully treated.”

Asked whether she had thought about her birth mother, she said:

“I didn’t think of her.  But I did wonder what my father was like as my children were growing up.”

Iris was able to finally meet her new little sister when Merle travelled from her home in Wanganui for a weekend reunion.  Not only did they look alike, they also wore the same coloured outfit – a red top and black trousers.  They immediately began chatting and laughing.

Merle was able to fill in the blanks for Iris about their mother, Bretta.  After giving Iris away, she went on to marry at the age of 32 and had two sons and Merle.

Merle explained: “Mum never said a thing.  No way.  I had a very proper mother.  An upright mother.  She was a strong lady, sensible and capable.  Growing up, there was no whisper about it.

“Mum died with her secret.  She passed away aged 96 and not a soul ever breathed a word about it.  I think she would be horrified to hear all this going on.”

Merle recalled her mother telling her that before she married she had worked in Auckland at the Bank of New Zealand as a stenographer-secretary, but never mentioned a baby born in Cambridge.  Merle said:  “We don’t know who arranged the adoption.  We know nothing.”  Patting Iris’ hand, she said:  “It wasn’t our fault eh?”

It was a different world 100 years ago and Iris can guess why her birth mother had to give her up:  “Wrong side of the blanket, wasn’t it?”

Source:  New Zealand Herald

Image by Greg Bowker – ‘Newly united sisters Merle Coleman [left] and Iris Lonergan’

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