Long Lost Family: North Yorkshire woman meets long lost brother after 25 years of searching

When Jeanette Woodyatt sits down to watch television this evening, her brother Graham will be by her side.

After 25 years of trying to track him down, the pair were finally introduced when Jeanette appealed for the help of ITV show Long Lost Family.

Now, Graham has made the journey of more than 5,000 miles from San Diego to Skipton to meet his sister for a second time – and together they will watch as their emotional story is shared with TV viewers across the country.

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"I never got my hopes up [about finding him],” says 53-year-old Jeanette. After her application to the show was accepted, “I put it to the back of my mind, but I couldn’t help thinking will they find him? What if they find him and he’s died? What if they find him and he doesn’t want anything to do with us? I never let myself think that anything would come of it.”

Jeanette Woodyatt with her long lost brother Graham. photo: Long Lost Family, ITVJeanette Woodyatt with her long lost brother Graham. photo: Long Lost Family, ITV
Jeanette Woodyatt with her long lost brother Graham. photo: Long Lost Family, ITV

Jeanette began her search for her sibling more than two decades ago. She was determined to make welcome the brother she’d never met, having found out that he had approached her family but had sadly been turned away.

The story actually begins years earlier, when Jeanette was in her late teens. She had grown up in Keighley, West Yorkshire with her parents and (another) brother and had been living with her father since her mum and dad separated when she was 12. One day, he sat down his children and told them that they also had a brother from a relationship he had been in before they were born.

"He just told me that before he met my mum, he’d been in a relationship with a girl and she’d fallen pregnant,” Jeanette recalls. “He knew, I don’t know how, that she’d had a son and that this son had been adopted. He always said he would never look for him because he hoped [my brother] had a good adoption and he wouldn’t upset the situation in case he didn’t know he’d been adopted. But dad said if he ever came looking then he’d be welcomed into the family.

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“I was quite shocked because I didn’t know anything about it. But all I can remember is thinking, if he comes, then we welcome him. And then we all just kind of put it to the back of our minds really, waiting to see if he ever did get in touch.”

Davina McCall, a presenter on the show. Photo: PA/IAn WestDavina McCall, a presenter on the show. Photo: PA/IAn West
Davina McCall, a presenter on the show. Photo: PA/IAn West

It sadly wasn’t to be in the lifetime of Jeanette’s father. But in the years after he died of cancer at the age of 54, his long lost son did make an approach to Jeanette’s family. Her paternal grandmother received a phonecall out of the blue from a man from the USA who said he was looking for his dad. She told the man his father had died and that there was little point in pursuing things further. It took Jeanette a long time to forgive her.

“I would take my grandma out shopping on a Friday and I can remember picking her up one day and she got in the car and said ‘I’ve had a really strange phonecall’,” Jeanette recalls. “I was mortified, absolutely mortified [when she told me what had happened] and it did cause a bit of a rift between myself and my grandma...Now I’m older I can look back and think that phonecall must have been such a shock to her after all that time, when she’d lost her son...I knew then that [my brother] was looking. On behalf of my dad I knew I had to do something so that’s when my search began.”

Jeanette tried all she could to find her brother, attempting to get the number he had called from and recruiting the help of a company that searched for people who had been adopted. As the years passed, she also did ancestral internet searches but had little success, knowingly only that his birth name, Christopher, had been changed to Graham. “I just thought we’re never going to find this brother,” Jeanette says. "He won’t search again. You don’t go back to have the door slammed in your face again, so it’s up to me. I thought I just want to give him a photograph and say this is your dad and he didn’t forget you.”

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Having watched Long Lost Family for years, Jeanette was encouraged to apply by her husband last year. With help from a team of trained intermediaries, DNA experts and investigators, the show sees Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall find relatives who previously couldn't be traced. The specialist researchers finally tracked down Graham living in San Diego in Southern California. He had no idea that he had a sister but Graham made the journey to the UK with his wife to meet with Jeanette.

“It was really overwhelming,” Jeanette says. “Suddenly it was real. I was going to see this brother that I’d been looking for for 25 years...In my head my story went I’ll find him, I’ll give him a photograph of his dad, I’ll tell him about his dad and that’s it. I didn’t actually think well now I’ve got a brother and sister-in-law. It just rippled.”

“Meeting him was exciting and it was scary,” she adds. “I kept thinking what if he doesn’t like me? What if I don’t like him? What do I say to him? A whole range of emotions were just flying…But as soon as I walked into that room, I cried and it was just comfortable. It was just like I knew him and there was a connection straight away.”

Jeanette and Graham are now building their relationship, messaging each other nearly every day. Graham is set to spend the week with his long lost family now and Jeanette plans to fly to San Diego as part of his 60th birthday celebrations next year.

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“For me, this was [about] fulfilling my dad’s wishes,” Jeanette says. “My dad had said if [my brother] comes looking, he should be made welcome and that wasn’t what happened...Graham had a really good childhood, a fantastic upbringing and has had a really good life...But I think for him it has been nice to know he wasn’t forgotten. He was touched that I had spent all that time searching. He said it meant an awful lot that I never gave up and he knows it meant a lot to me to put things right.”

Jeanette’s episode of Long Lost Family airs on ITV1 at 9pm tonight (July 31).