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Sylvia's story: reunited with long-lost cousin

Holding hands

After pensioner Sylvia suddenly lost touch with her cousin Mary, who lives in Germany, she spent three years fearing the worst – until someone mentioned the Red Cross’ tracing and message services.

Sylvia Pitman-Fuller (82) and her cousin Mary Burkharolt (also aged 82) grew up together in Portsmouth. The two girls were as close as sisters – and even lived together for a number of years.

So when Mary met and married a German POW after the Second World War and moved to Europe, the pair kept in touch via letters, cards and annual visits. But then, in 2006, all communication suddenly stopped.

‘Really worried’

Sylvia stopped receiving replies to her letters and Mary’s phone number just rang out. Desperate, she called everyone she knew in Germany, plus the embassy and many other organisations. But no one knew where Mary had gone or how she was.

She explained: “My cousin was here visiting three years ago and then I just stopped hearing from her. We were very close and always in touch by letter or on the phone, so I was really worried. I didn’t know if she was dead or alive.” Finally, someone suggested the Red Cross’ international family tracing services.

Sylvia contacted the tracing service early last year and, in May this year, the Red Cross got in touch with momentous news – Mary was alive, but had suffered a stroke and was living in a care home.

‘Happy memories’

The pensioner recalled: “I was so happy to hear Mary was okay – it was such good news. Apparently she’d had a stroke and couldn’t remember English anymore, only German, so couldn’t write to me. I called the nursing home and they put Mary on the phone. I said: ‘Why didn’t anybody tell me where you were? I thought you were dead'.”

“She was really happy that I’d found her and, accompanied by my granddaughter Catherine, I went and see her in October. We stayed for five days, chatting non-stop. It was so nice to see her again. I took along CDs of my old-time songs and we had a bit of a sing-song. I also took pictures of us as kids and we sat looking through them – it brought back so many happy memories.”

Looking back, Sylvia said: “The Red Cross was a big part of finding her and they were lovely. I’d encourage other people who have lost touch with loved ones to contact their international family tracing services. They have connections all over the world.”

Find out more about the international family tracing services.

Tracing and message service true stories.


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