Meeting the brother I never knew at 70!
What’s it like to reach your 70s and discover a half-sibling you never knew existed? It happened to Carol Dixson-Smith and Robert Kilvington
‘The DNA test confirmed he was my father’s son’
One Monday morning in May 2018, Carol Dixson-Smith woke up and checked her phone for messages, as usual. She was pleased to see one from her cousin Michelle, who lives in Michigan, USA. They often share family chit-chat, but this was rather different. ‘I hope this isn’t going to be a shock, Michelle wrote. But I think you may have a brother...’
‘I remember turning to my husband John and saying, ‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just got from Michelle...’ I don’t think I was shocked, exactly, but I was certainly surprised,’ says Carol, who is 71 and lives in Essex.
The story unfolded like this: Michelle had sent off a sample of her saliva to the DNA testing company Ancestry, because she was
intrigued to find out the percentage of British genes she carries – 55% as it turns out. But DNA testing, as well as revealing information about people’s geographical roots, can also
find genetic links with others on the database, and Michelle discovered that she had a first cousin in Sheffield, a dentist called Robert Kilvington, known as Kilv. ‘If he’s my cousin he must be even more closely related to you and Stephanie [Carol’s sister] – probably your half-brother,’ wrote Michelle. ‘How do you feel about that?’
Though intrigued, Carol, a retired businesswoman, decided not to rush into things. ‘I didn’t want to speak to him until
I’d sent off my own DNA test and knew we
were definitely related,’ says Carol, whose parents had both died. ‘I registered with Ancestry and sent off for a kit, which all cost about £120.
‘A few weeks later,
it was confirmed beyond doubt.
Kilv was my father’s son, and my older half-brother. Having been adopted at birth, he was now, in his 70s, searching for his genetic family. He’d already made contact with cousins in Canada, from his mother’s side. Now, the DNA test had given him the link he needed with his father and I received a long, chatty letter from him, telling me about his life.
‘He’d been happily raised by a couple in Middlesex, who had told him he was adopted when he was 10,’ says Carol. ‘When he wrote to me, he’d already met half-siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles on his maternal side. His mother, although still alive, was suffering from dementia. She died soon after, unaware that the secret she’d kept all her life had been revealed.
‘Kilv said he’d love to know about me and my sister, our lives with our mum and dad, what kind of man our father he was. He asked whether we might meet up, but said he realised it might be unsettling for us to discover his existence, that he was concerned about, as he put it, “the ripples, or in fact waves, that I might have created in otherwise calm seas”.’
When Carol read that, all doubts disappeared. ‘I
thought, well, he’s definitely a decent chap,’ and I picked up the phone and rang him. I just said, “Hello, this is Carol,” and he said, “If you hadn’t rung me, I was going to ring you later today.’’’
A long chat on the phone was followed by a two-night stay with their partners at a hotel in Rutland Water, halfway between their homes. Bizarrely, Carol and Kilv chose to wear almost identical clothes – jeans with navy jackets, and jumpers in an unusual shade of aqua. ‘That was a bit weird,’ says Carol.
Carol and John, and Kilv and his wife Chris, talked for hours. ‘We discovered family similarities – Kilv’s very good at DIY, like Dad was, and he
went into the Air Cadets – Dad was in the RAF. And differences – he likes the Rolling Stones and Elvis, I prefer The Beatles and
Cliff Richard. He does line dancing, I’ve got two left feet.’
They also worked out, as best they could, how Kilv came to be born. ‘In 1944, my dad Kenneth, then in the RAF, must have come back from being posted overseas and met Kilv’s mother, Celia, a student nurse, who became pregnant. They’d have both been about 21. Celia was the daughter of a bank manager in Wales,’ says Carol. ‘One would suspect a pregnancy outside wedlock would have been a huge embarrassment, which explains why Kilv was put up for adoption.
‘Two years later, knowing nothing about the baby, we assume, Dad met my mother, Gladys, and they married in 1946. Celia married a doctor in the Canadian Air Force, emigrated to Canada and had three children with him, who Kilv is now in touch with.’
Carol is pragmatic about the fact her dad fathered a child before he married. ‘This was wartime, people lived for the moment,’ she says. ‘People hardly had phones, let along mobiles, and there’d have been no way for them to have kept in touch. But I think he’d have been over the moon to know he had a son. I don’t know what my mother would have made of it, but it all happened before she and Dad met.
‘From being an only child, Kilv now has three half-sisters and two half-brothers. His four children have aunts, uncles and cousins they never expected. I think our emotional experiences must be very different because
‘It was wartime. People lived for
we’ve always had our family, whereas this is new for him.’
Understandably, Carol wondered how things would
be left after that first meeting. ‘As we were saying our goodbyes, he said, “The family and I are going to be in Cornwall at the end of the year, and we’d love you to join us...” That’s when I knew this was going to last,’ says Carol. ‘He’s a nice chap. We chat and text all the time. I’m pleased I took that DNA test and I’m glad we’ve got him in our family.’
The siblings’ dad Kenneth inhis early 20s
Carol with her parents
Kenneth in his 70s
Kilv and Carol have a lot of catching up to do