Man, 81, discovers dozens of relatives he didn't know existed

John Ellis, from North Walsham, with a photo of his newfound family. 

John Ellis, from North Walsham, with a photo of his newfound family. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

A retired farm worker has described his astonishment at discovering, at the age of 81, that he had more than 40 relatives he never knew existed.

John Ellis, from North Walsham, found out recently that his mother had had three daughters and a son he did not know about, and he is now finally back in touch with another full sister, who he has not seen in almost 70 years. 

He has shared his incredible family story, to offer encouragement to anyone else who has ever searched for long-lost relatives.

John Ellis, from North Walsham, with a photo of his newfound family. 

John Ellis, from North Walsham, with a photo of his newfound family. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

"It was a bit of a shock," he said. "But now I’ve come to take it all in and I’m quite happy with it.

"They've welcomed me in with open arms. By the time I finished I was in tears."

Mr Ellis, 81, and his older sister, Irene, were put into a children's home in North Walsham as infants, and were soon moved to another home in Gresham.

Upon turning 15, he could no longer stay at the village home, so returned to North Walsham, where the home he had originally lived at had been turned into a boys' hostel.

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Mr Ellis said: "You could stay till you were 18 or 18-and-a-half. Then you had to find your own way in life.

Photos of John Ellis' birth mother and father. 

Photos of John Ellis' birth mother and father. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

"But the people who ran it were retiring and myself and another boy went and lived with them, a Mr and Mrs Baker." 

When he was at the hostel Mr Ellis worked on a farm, as he did for much of his career. It was then he had the chance to meet his mother again, who was living elsewhere in Norfolk.

But, although he learned he and Irene also had another sister to the same parents, he never learned who their father was or why his mother was unable to raise them herself.

He said: "I didn't know, nobody ever told us.

"Then one day my governor said ‘you’ve got to go home, John’. I said ‘What for?’ He said ‘Your mother wants to see you’.

"I said ‘I didn’t want to go and see her,’ but he said 'You got to because otherwise they might say I tried to stop you!' 

“This was in 1957. And she wanted me to come and live with her and my sister in Norfolk somewhere. But I said 'no, you didn’t want me when I was younger'." 

A photo of John Ellis, and others living in care, as children.

A photo of John Ellis, and others living in care, as children. Mr Ellis said he was not sure which one he was, but he is sure he is in the photo. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

Mr Ellis married at age 39 - his wife Averill died over four years ago.

He said in 1979 some people came to North Walsham looking to trace their family tree, and they had the same maternal name on their birth certificates as he did, but they did not stay in touch. 

Then, in March, Mr Ellis discovered he had a huge extended family had never known about when his half-sisters made contact after researching their ancestry through a firm called Birthlink. 

It turns out that after leaving Norfolk, his mother had three girls - Philomena, Kathleen and Margaret - and a son called Ronald, with another partner.

Philomena lives in Scotland, while Kathleen and Ronald are in Nuneaton. Margaret passed away not long before the first lockdown. 

Over the past few months Mr Ellis has been to stay with them all, including Margaret's daughter, who lives in Aberdeen, and met his many nieces and nephews he never knew existed.

He said: "Until all this came up I didn’t know anybody and now, they're my new family."

He now has albums full of photos of his newfound relatives. 

Through the research his half-sisters and brothers had done Mr Ellis learned more about the 'full' sister he and Irene never got to know - her name is Shirley and she lives in Las Vegas, as do her son and daughter.

Shirley had been put up for adoption and Mr Ellis only ever saw her once, nearly 70 years ago.

But now they talk on the phone every week and Mr Ellis is planning to go and visit her in the USA in September.