‘I always thought I was an only child, but my sister lived just 15 minutes away’: A chance encounter, and an extraordinary reunion after 67 years apart

One morning idly scrolling through Facebook Jean Barrow stumbled across a post that made her stop in her tracks.

It could have been written by her.

The poster grew up a couple of streets away in Salford, and had a father who was a bus driver – she even had the same name.

And it confirmed something the 67-year-old had been told on a family holiday nearly four decades earlier.

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She had a half-sister – and they’d lived barely 15 minutes apart in Seedley without ever having met.

.Joan Constantine, 77, had posted on a group called “We grew up in Salford” asking if anybody knew of her father. Jim Harris, whom she had never met.

Jean recognized the name and details, and quickly realized that Joan was her long lost half-sister that her father had in a previous marriage.

The pair only knew rumors of each other’s existence.

Jean and Joan have always known about each other's existence
Jean and Joan have always known about each other’s existence

Mother-of-two, Jean only found out she might have another sister on a family holiday when she was 19-years-old.

Up until that point, Jean thought she was an only child after her older brother David, died when she was 17.

Her dad, Jim Harris, was drove tanks during WW2, and eventually became a bus driver in Salford until he passed away in 2014 aged 101.

He told Jean that he had been married before and had a daughter who was ten years older than her.

Jean says that it was all his father or mother Annie ever said about the situation, and she was hesitant to ask more after realizing it was a contentious topic.

Jean said: “He just came out with it one day and that was basically it, he wouldn’t really talk about it much, and I got more information off my mum that he wasn’t allowed to see his daughter.

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Joan, Jean and Lyn who told Joan about the Facebook group
Joan, Jean and Lyn who told Joan about the Facebook group

“I just became aware at the age of 19 that this woman existed, normally I’d be really happy to find out I had a sister, but there was something about this story that I knew I couldn’t go looking into.

“Over the years I’d think about her, and they weren’t always friendly thoughts because I’d ask myself why she hasn’t tried to find us.”

But older sister Joan, who also thought she was an only child, had been trying to find her dad for years.

The 77-year-old mum-of-two now lives in Berkshire, and says she always wanted to know more about her dad but was unable to because of her ‘controlling’ mum who also sadly passed away in 2014.

She said: “I always felt a connection to my dad, he and my mother split up when I was very young, but I always felt that he loved me.

“I knew he was there for my birth so I knew he would have held me and I think that connection always remained.

“Me and Jean have lived two different lives, she comes from a very loving family and my mum was very controlling and I was never allowed to ask about my dad.”

However, having lived so close to each other, Joan spoke about two missed opportunities she had to meet her father.

One of them was when she was 15, when she would ride to work on the bus that Jim drove.

She didn’t realize until Jim’s wife Annie spoke to her during a morning commute.

Joan told the Manchester Evening News : “I started working at 15, and I would take the number one from Langworthy Road to Pendleton Church and then the bus to Manchester.

“Dad was a bus driver in Eccles and he drove the number one bus, he must have noticed me.

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Joan wearing her father's driving gloves
Joan wearing her father’s driving gloves

“One morning I got on the bus and his wife Annie was sat next to me, I didn’t know her at the time.

“She tapped me on the knee and said ‘that bus driver is your dad, do you want to go and meet him?

“I was in shock, I just panicked and didn’t say anything and just got off the next stop.

“I was scared of my mum blowing up if she ever found out.”

Joan eventually got married and moved out of Salford to set up her life down south with a husband and two children in her mid twenties.

Cursing her missed opportunities but knowing her father’s name, she said she continued to look for him through registries, ancestry websites and even visited a mystic to ask if she would ever find her father.

She said: “I always felt like there was something inside me, I felt as though there was a thread connecting me and my dad.”

For the sisters, February 4, 2020, will always be a special day.

That was the day Jean saw Joan’s post on the Facebook page.

Joan said: “I have a friend who also lived in Salford and told me about the group, I found it and I thought I should post something in there but I didn’t.

“I went for a meal and was talking to another friend who convinced me I should, so that night I did.”

Jean then saw the post and after reading the details provided realized it was ‘fate’.

“It was almost as if it was fate,

“There’s this status from this lady and she started saying these things like her maiden name being Harris, like mine, where she lived, that her dad was a bus driver.

“I’m reading this and I couldn’t believe it, I’m getting goosebumps now just thinking about it.

“I had to read it several times, and the best thing about it for me was that she said she was so sad that she didn’t know my dad.

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“I couldn’t just do nothing, so I got in touch, I knew who she was, that was my sister.”

Jean messaged Joan the next day sending photos of her dad and his driving license.

After a moment of ‘shock’, Joan called Jean the following day and the pair were beside themselves.

Jean said: “She rang me and we were both as giddy as anything.

“We spent six months talking on the phone and it was like we’d always known each other.

“We just immediately got on, I was the one who had to prove myself, that I wasn’t just some random woman having a laugh.”

Due to the pandemic the pair couldn’t meet as soon as possible and had to wait six months after making contact when restrictions were lifted.

The pair have been making up for all those years missed connecting the dots and introducing kids and grandkids to each other.

Despite never meeting in person until now, both sisters inherited their father’s love for driving.

Jean who now lives in Stockport was a driving instructor for 20 years and Joan, now retired, is an avid driver.

So much so that Jean gifted Joan their father’s driving gloves which she wears to feel close to him.

Joan said: “Jean has been so generous. She’s let me into the family and given me things that belonged to my dad.

“People search for years and they never find something they’re looking for.

“Growing up I always thought I was an only child but my sister lived just 15 minutes away.

“I’m so happy I feel like I could burst, it’s fabulous, just fabulous!”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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