For more than 80 years, Pamela Maier wondered what her mother looked like, so when she found that part of her family via an AncestryDNA test about six months ago, a picture was all she asked for.
Instead, a new branch of Maier’s family tree opened up to her complete with nieces and nephews, grand nieces and nephews, a brother, and a sister two years younger than she.
Although they’ve spent the past six months getting to know each other via video chat, Maier, at 83, met her sister, Jacynth “Jackie” Taylor, for the first time on July 14.
“It’s a bit like watching a movie,” Maier said of getting to know her sister via the Internet. “You think you like the person and then you’re going to live with somebody for two weeks. That’s how she felt too. We’re going to live with each other for two weeks and wonder how that will be. I don’t know her habits, she doesn’t know mine. We don’t know whether we’re going to like each other or how we behave. We never know. But we’re exactly the same. We’re just good people is what we are.”
Maier, who has lived in Crescent City with her husband Richard for about three years, was born in Yaxley, England to May Elizabeth Nightingale in 1935. According to Maier, her mother had just turned 17 when her employer, the town butcher, impregnated her. Maier said she was six months old when her mother decided to give her up and was raised by a foster mother until 1940 when she entered The Foundling Hospital in London.
Maier spent 10 years at the Foundling Hospital before a governor of the orphanage sent her to Bedales School, an elite upper class facility where she was taught to “speak like a good English lady.” Maier said she received a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and passed examinations with honors at the Royal Academy.
At 18-years-old, Maier, who had been the lead soloist in the choir at the Foundling Hospital, said she received an offer to be a soloist for the Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall. She said she found out that she was under contract until she was 25 to the man who had sent her to Bedales.
“His thing was I wasn’t singing again in public until I was 25,” Maier said. “He wanted me to really be at my best at which time he’d send me to La Scala in Italy and then I would perform what he wanted me to perform, which was this great opera that he loved. It was a big dream of his. So, whose life was I living?”
Maier said she thanked her patron for educating her, but she didn’t want to be under contract to him. She found a job at Gallery LaFayett of London working behind the makeup counter, got married, had two children and moved to the U.S. with her husband.
Maier, who tried to find her mother’s family in the 1980s, said she wasn’t too excited about meeting them because of stories she’d heard from her former classmates at the Foundling Hospital who had tracked down their families only to be disappointed. Maier said she found out that her mother married shortly after she had given her up and had six children.
“My mother had died in 2009, I believe,” Maier said. “She was 90 and she’d been married for 65 years.”
Maier said it was her daughter, Suzanne Yeager, who gave her the results of her AncestryDNA kit for Christmas.
For Taylor, who lives in Peterborough, a city in Northamptonshire, England, finding out she had an older sister came as a shock. She couldn’t believe it when her daughter, Lisa, who had been the first person Maier reached out to, told her she had an older sister.
“There was no inclination of anything like that in the family,” Taylor said. “We knew there was a secret, but that’s as far as it went. Gradually, Pamela got in touch with Lisa and then everything just went on from there.”
Taylor said her mother worked hard to take care of six children, serving in a public house and cleaning up rooms in a hostel. Taylor said her mother had asked her family not to delve into her history, but her daughter Lisa “kept on and that’s how we found Pamela.”
What’s even more surprising, Taylor said, is how close they have become in six short months. When Taylor, who was accompanied by her grandson and his wife, landed at the Del Norte County Airport, they said they both clicked.
“The bit that struck me being the best bit was when we met and we got off the plane and we met, that was wonderful to me, it really was,” Taylor said. “All the people in England were crying, all the people in America were crying. We had to joke that I was queen for a day.”
The two sisters met at the Del Norte County Airport to much fanfare. The pilots and staff with Contour Airlines gave them flowers. There was a banner commemorating the event at the terminal and the passengers applauded, according to Richard Maier.
“You remember what you said to me?” Richard Maier asked Taylor on Thursday. “You said it was the happiest day of my life.”
Maier said it was the same for her. She said she was happy she had a wonderful family. It also turns out, according to her sister, that she looks very much like her mother.
“Jackie said if you want to know your mother, she looks just like you,” Maier said. “You act just like her. You have the same sense of humor. She said ‘It’s like we are looking at our mother and our grandmother. All the kids say that too.’ ... Here’s the funny thing about it, I used to look in the mirror and see myself and now I look in the mirror and see my mother because I never knew who she was.”