Long lost family finally reunited

Reunited: Flying halfway around the world Stephen, from the UK (right) and Uncle Jim from Traralgon (left) Atkinson met for the first time after the families lost contact for more than 50 years. Photograph supplied



‘OHANA means family’ says Disney’s ‘Lilo and Stitch’, and ‘family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten’.

This is a story about a monumental search for family connections that went across oceans, countries and decades.

The Atkinson family reunion is a tale of coincidence that sometimes sounds too hard to believe.

James (Jim), 81, and Elsie Atkinson, 80, moved to Australia in 1966 from Nottingham, UK leaving their family behind. Looking for adventure, the pair jet-setted across the globe and travelled all across Australia, but have now settled in Traralgon.

Jim came from a family of seven kids with five brothers and one sister. Eric, the eldest Atkinson brother, was Jim’s closest friend growing up, but due to some breakdown in the family, the pair lost contact before Jim was set to head to Australia, where he would never hear from Eric again.

Familial breakdowns are always a tough situation for any family, but for the Atkinsons, no one had real contact with the eldest brother, Eric or his children and those bonds became lost over the years.

Many from the family had tried to visit Eric and establish a bond, with James and Elsie visiting the UK on two separate occasions to try and find him, the pair found themselves out of luck.

“I was actually googling Eric because we were in the UK in the 1990’s and we couldn’t find him.”

Elsie said they had “searched and searched for him – to see where he was”.

“On two occasions, I had tried to find my brother, but with no success and yet he was in the same area where we had always lived,” said Jim.

The couple found Eric’s house one day, but no one was home; asking the neighbour to pass a message; they didn’t get a response back until it was time to board the plane home.

The Australian branch of the Atkinson family knew that Eric had a daughter Christine and we’re aware that he also fathered a son whom they would never meet until 52 years later.

Eric passed away in 2021, sparking his son Stephen to go on an international manhunt for the family he had never met due to reasons outside of his control.

“My brother died a couple of years ago, and that made Stephen even more intent on finding his uncles,” said Jim.

Little did Stephen know, “He had ten cousins over here that he didn’t know anything about,” he added.

With the beauty of the internet and Facebook algorithms, Stephen put his trust in his devices and looked to social media to find some answers.

“He was googling the name Atkinson Australia for a long time and coming up with different people on Facebook,” said Jim.

One day late last year, Stephen and his sister were going through Facebook profiles when they saw a sight they thought they would never see, a man with a familiar face by the name of Kenneth Beckhaus.

“Christine said, ‘That guy looks exactly like you’,” said Jim.

Kenneth’s resemblance to Stephen was uncanny; they shared the same face shape and features and could have easily passed as brothers despite the 10-year or so age gap. Despite the difference in surnames, Stephen grew hopeful as looking at the photo of Kenneth was like looking straight into the mirror.

Hoping he was more than just his Australian doppelganger, Stephen sparked a conversation about family history that somehow matched up entirely. Surely more than a mere coincidence, Stephen pursued Kenneth to find more potential family members. Mr Beckhaus turned out to be the son of Stephen’s Aunty Gwen.

Kenneth soon reached out to the family in the Latrobe Valley, and Deborah and Adam Atkinson (James and Elsie’s children) notified their parents.

James Atkinson was excited by the thought that he had found Eric’s son but was sceptical, having had his own family to think of first.

“We knew his mum had had a boy, but shortly after, contact was lost,” Jim explained. Jim’s scepticism soon turned to excitement as all the signs pointed to Stephen being Eric’s son.

After all this time of Jim looking for Eric and his family, Stephen had found them, Jim said with a smile.

“He contacted me, and we had a yarn – I rang him and sort of fished for more information, and he was who said he was,” said Jim.

“It’s got to be him, it’s got to be him,’ Elsie recalls saying.

After many more exchanges over the phone late last year, Jim and Elsie explained that it became obvious that he was who he said to be.

“Next thing we knew, he booked his flight, and he wanted to come and meet,” said Elsie.

With Stephen suffering from personal health battles, and having had chemotherapy treatment for throat cancer, family became particularly important in his time of need.

Having visited for only eight days in June of this year, Stephen and the rest of the Atkinson family bonded so strongly nonetheless.

Jim and Elsie hosted Stephen at their Traralgon home with no awkward silence, as there was much for the family to discuss.

The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Jim explained that the pair had the ability to talk for hours on end; Jim said that Stephen had “the same kind of personality” as his brother Eric. Explaining that “Eric was always a sort of easy-going kind of person and Stephen was very easy-going”.

With Cousin Kenneth’s looks and Father Eric’s personality to match, Jim noted, “it’s strange how things in the family can come out in later times.”

What’s even stranger is the fact that Elsie’s family in Nottingham, England, lived on the exact same street as Stephen for the longest time.

“My sister and her husband, who are in the old people’s flats and we didn’t know at the time, straight opposite, well, up the road a little on the same road, he (Stephen) lived there,” Elsie excitingly explained.

“She said she could’ve passed him, said good morning to him, they didn’t even know.”

“When I showed Steven a photo of my sister and her husband, he said he used to talk to them every day as he went by,” Elsie added.

“I know that’s true because my sister told me, and I asked them on separate occasions.”

To add to the many uncanny coincidences of the Atkinson family story, Deborah, Jim and Elsie’s daughter, when visiting the family in the UK, stayed in a lodge on Reid Street, Nottingham; little did she know her first cousin was mere meters up the road.

“It’s just incredible that he wanted to find us,” said Elsie with a smile.

Stephen, if health allows, will come back to Australia to spend more time with his long-lost family.

The story of how the Atkinson’s reunited is more than just a series of very fortunate coincidences, it’s a story that showcases just how important family really is – after all, blood runs thicker than water.

In the wise words of Jim Atkinson, “If you got family out there, never let go”.