by Ashley Flynn
For 25 years he searched for her. From the moment he saw her picture and heard, “this is your sister,” he questioned and researched, but never got more than a name: Vanessa. He was determined to find her, but his mother wouldn’t speak about it.
"Mum, I want to know who she is," Mark Mann would ask his mother, only to have her turn and walk away without saying a word, leaving Mark with unanswered questions for years. Then, Mark’s older brother passed away.
"I kept asking mum all these years. I went to New York when my older brother David was in the hospital and later passed away. I think that's when Mum starting feeling bad about keeping it all from me, because she got a hold of my uncle in England," Mark told The Paper.
Mark’s uncle Bunter got on the double-decker bus in Ipswich, Suffolk, where Vanessa Northcott worked. Having never met, he went to her and told her she had a brother named Mark looking for her.
Vanessa was shocked. She knew she had siblings, but not how many. And she had no idea any would ever search for her.
After getting her number, Mark called Vanessa.
“I called her at 8 at night here so it was 3 in the morning there. I said ‘this is your brother Mark,’ and she started crying,” Mark said.
“I was awake. I’ll never forget that night. That was a shock,” Vanessa told The Paper.
As babies, their mother Sylvia gave up both Vanessa and Mark for adoption in England.
"Mum had given me up until I was four. She came and took me out of the front yard of the foster home I was in. We found out later that it was the same foster home Vanessa had been placed in. Their mother tried unsuccessfully to get her back, too.
“I was put up for adoption, but I was never adopted. I stayed with a lady who I called mum my whole life,” she said.
After moving to America, Mark spent 12 years taking speech therapy to lose his English accent. He moved around the states with his mother, stepfather and two brothers 27 times before he was in the fourth grade.
Eventually, they came to Wabash, which Mark calls home. He attended W.C. Mills Elementary School and graduated from Wabash High School. His mother and stepfather stayed in Wabash nine years before moving on. Eventually they settled in Florida, where his mother passed away last month.
Vanessa met her mother once over 20 years ago.
“She came to England to be with her parents and siblings. She did come and meet me and said she’d remarried and moved on with her life. That was about it. I was happy the way I was so I backed off and didn’t pressure her. I let her get on with her life and I got on with mine. Then, I didn’t know Mark was my brother,” Vanessa said.
Mark was 25 when he learned about his sister and spent another 25 years looking for her. It’s been two years since he found her.
Last year, Vanessa made her first visit to America to meet her brother.
“That was emotional last year to meet for the first time. I was quite nervous coming over on my own. I didn’t know what to expect,” Vanessa said.
Mark instantly saw his mother in Vanessa, causing him to back off a little.
“Looks like mum, but different personalities. We get along. You’d never know we didn’t know each other all these years,” Mark said.
This year, Vanessa came to America again, but this time it was a surprise visit.
“I got as far as Fort Wayne. We met in a Starbucks. I pulled up in a taxi, and he didn’t have a clue I was coming over,” she said.
During both trips, Mark has shown Vanessa all that Wabash has to offer.
"Vanessa loves being outside so we have taken her to Salamonie and Mississinewa Reservoirs, walked the River Walk, visited the Wabash County Museum. Vanessa liked going shopping too; she loved Wal-Mart," Mark said.
He’s also taken her to Peabody where he works as a maintenance man and to the cemetery where their mother and brother David are buried.
Since Vanessa drives for a profession, he let her take the wheel last year.
“She had to at least experience it, drive on the right side of the road. She didn’t know what a stop sign was; she didn’t stop,” Mark laughed as he remembered.
“When you come up to a junction like that in England, you can cruise across if the road is clear, but here you actually have to stop,” Vanessa said.
She’s noticed several cultural differences, but the main difference is size.
“Everything is so big here. Even the acorns are bigger. We went into a supermarket yesterday, and the size of the marshmallows! I took a picture,” Vanessa said.
Mark has not been back to England, but he hopes to within the next few years.
“I’d like to go just to say this is where I am from,” Mark said. Although he has been in the states most of his life, Mark is not an American citizen.
“I got hit by immigration 10-11 years ago. They tried to deport me. I spent six months without a country because I couldn’t get England to accept me and the U.S. wouldn’t accept me,” Mark said.
His mother never got him citizenship, a fact Mark wasn’t aware of until he was 41.
“It was a shock. I’m married. I have three daughters, two stepdaughters and 10 grandkids and here I am illegal. I was registered in the draft. Here I always thought I was a citizen,” he explained.
England eventually claimed Mark, and he is listed as a permanent resident here in the states.
Now that Mark and Vanessa have found each other, they research their family together.
“We chat and we try to fix the story together. We’ve come a long way,” Vanessa said. ”I used to meddle with it when I was younger, but I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to hurt mum. But when Mark found me, I’ve done it for him. That’s something he wanted for the peace. It’s hard from here to England to find those things.”
Vanessa discovered she had a twin brother who passed away at five days old. Her and Mark also have five sisters, all living in Ipswich, unaware of each other. Vanessa sees them but doesn’t say a word.
“I have seen them, but they aren’t aware of us and I haven’t said anything to them. I don’t think it’s fair if they didn’t know. Years ago, things were protected more. Not a lot of people spoke about these things. They put it in a drawer and they kept it there,” she said.
They also have two brothers, David, who passed away, and Muggs, who lives in Florida. Vanessa never met either of them.
Vanessa and Mark are the only siblings with the same two parents. Their father passed away in 1976. They are unsure of why their mother separated them and refused to talk about it.
“A lot was kept from me when I was a kid. I don’t know if she was trying to protect me, or what. You can’t answer for your parents,” Mark said.
Mark and Vanessa are just grateful they’ve found each other. They laugh and joke like they’ve never been apart.
“It’s a lot of years wasted when we could have been together as brother and sister,” Vanessa said, “but we are happy with what we have now.”