Gazette letter leads to family reunion

Relatives in North Devon and Canada are reunited after 60 years apart.

A CHANCE letter to the North Devon Gazette has reunited family members in Canada and North Devon for the first time in nearly 60 years.

After years of painstaking research and frustrating dead ends, Philip Printess wrote to the Gazette from the other side of the Atlantic asking readers to help trace relatives he’d discovered named in the pages of his late grandfather’s journal.

Less than two weeks later, Philip, 47, from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, was able to retrace part of a fascinating family tree, uncovering branches in Vancouver, and closer to home in Bideford, Woolsery and Iddesleigh.

Philip’s great-grandfather Thomas Lane and his family had emigrated from London to Canada in 1913 to farm land they had purchased in Dunns Valley, Ontario.


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Nearly 100 years later, Philip’s 80-year-old mother Doris, who thought she was the only surviving relative, has enjoyed an emotional reunion with her cousin Martin Lane, who she last saw when he visited Canada as a 10-year-old in 1954.

Philip said: “As far as my mother knew, all her family was gone; I don’t think I can express fully the excitement that she had when I first told her about connecting with her cousin Martin on Skype.

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“My mother kept saying ‘I haven’t seen Martin since he was a little boy, I don’t know what to talk about,’ but once she sat down it was about 45 minutes later that they finished talking.”

Martin, who moved to Canada himself from Bideford in 1980, was contacted by his niece Anne Massimo who lives in Bideford and had read Philip’s letter entitled ‘Looking for Lanes’ in the Gazette.

He in turn emailed Philip, one of several responses he received just days after the letter was published on August 29.

Philip said: “Martin thought he was also the last of the Lanes in his generation excluding his nieces and nephews. He was very surprised to find more relatives living in Canada.”

Philip also received two emails from people who wanted to help, and an email from Martin’s son Ken, who lives in British Colombia. By the next day he had also heard from Martin’s nephew Andy Lane, who lives in Iddesleigh and niece Clare Harding, who lives in Woolsery.

Andy said it was a ‘nice surprise’ to hear news of more family members: “It’s amazing really; we are quite a private family and although I knew that my grandfather had moved to Canada from London we didn’t really know how many brothers or sisters he had.

“My uncle Martin is actually visiting the UK for his birthday next week and I will be talking with the family to plan some sort of get-together,” he added.

Philip said the surname Lane was very popular on both sides of the globe.

“If it were not for your paper printing my story, I would still be checking old census records and not knowing if I had found the right family members or missed one.

“It’s been hard work and has taken a lot of deciphering to get where I am today; but to see the emotion in my mother’s face when she was talking to her cousin for the first time in 60 years was amazing – well worth it.

“With the help of the North Devon Gazette I was able to accomplish a task that I had set myself many years ago and I am glad that my mother is still around to be part of the excitement.

“My search now takes me to London looking for my grandfather’s sisters’ families; my mother can’t wait for the next family members that I find.”

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