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After 78 Years Apart, Professor Brings Twins Together

May 7, 2014

Two elderly ladies sit on a park bench under trees

Twins Elizabeth Ann Hamel, left, and Patricia Ann Hunt relax at the Fullerton Arboretum during their recent campus visit. Born in the 1930s to an unwed mother unable to care for both, one was given up for adoption soon after their birth.

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Psychology professor Nancy Segal has gone to great lengths to pursue her research about twins, but never quite like the record-setting events of recent days.
Segal arranged to reunite a pair of 78-year-old twins who were separated soon after they were born in 1936 in England. Now living worlds apart — one in the U.S., the other in the U.K. — Elizabeth Ann Hamel of Oregon and Patricia Ann Hunt of Aldershot finally got together May 1 for the first time since they were infants.
As the world's longest-separated twins, they've created quite a media stir. From the BBC and Huffington Post to the Associated Press and Albany Democrat-Herald, news outlets around the globe have been reporting their joyful reunion. The Orange County Register published its Page 1 story Saturday.
The pair enjoyed their first hug at the Fullerton Marriott on campus, where the twins stayed as guests of the professor. She guided them through three full days of research activities that included interviews, DNA and behavioral analysis tests, conducted with the aid of her graduate assistants.

The twins had brought along family snapshots and photo albums to share and pored over them with Segal and graduate students at the Twin Studies Center on campus. (See the CSUF Flickr photo album of their campus visit.)
To Segal, twins reared apart are the Rosetta Stone that can help unlock the mystery of nurture vs. nature in human development. Segal has written several books on twins, including “Born Together — Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study.
"Studying twins raised apart is the best natural experiment we have," Segal explained. "Genetic and environmental influences are disentangled, and we can look at the differences between identical twins to see where the environment comes in to create these differences in genetically identical people."
Late Friday afternoon, the twins and company stretched their legs on a stroll to the Fullerton Arboretum, where they admired the plants and scampering squirrels before relaxing on a bench overlooking the pond. By their second day together, their wide-ranging conversations touched on religion and history, as well as life's experiences.

"It's been a great shock, but a nice shock," Hunt said with a smile. "It's been a lovely, lovely few days," added Hamel.
Only in the past year have their lives intertwined, after one twin located the other, with the aid of Hunt's youngest daughter. She wrote letters to distant relatives and pieced together clues to help her "mum" find her sister. Nearly eight decades before, Hunt had been given up for adoption by their unwed mother after their birth father abandoned them. Eager to get to know one another, the twins began chatting by phone and via Skype.
Meanwhile, Hamel's son Quinton had read one of Segal's books and contacted the twin scholar to alert her to the unique status of his mom and aunt, planting the seed for the twins' reunion.
It may be next year before the Guinness Book of World Records reflects the milestone Hamel and Hunt reached with their reunion. In the meantime, Segal, who is also a twin, has a treasure trove of data to review, along with snapshots of a memorable few days spent with the newest members of her twin studies family.

Tags:  Academics & Research