'Finding my dad 30 years after I was taken from him'

By Patrick Evans
BBC News

image copyrightEdson Sanderson
image captionEdson and his dad playing pool

Edson Sanderson's earliest memory is travelling on a hot bus to the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, with his mother and younger brother Emerson. She had taken them hundreds of miles away from their father in Sonora with no intention of coming back.

At the time, he was around three years old and had no idea he wouldn't see his father again for more than 30 years.

They were finally reunited through an appeal on Facebook in April 2019.

Remembering the moment Edson, now 38, says: "When I arrived at the airport it was just elation. I think I hugged him a little bit too tight!"

image copyrightEdson Sanderson
image captionEdson (right) with Keith Sanderson and Cleverson

The details of what happened to Edson and his brother after they arrived in Sao Paulo are unclear. He has never been able to establish the exact sequence of events.

The only things he knows for sure are that his mother abandoned him and he ended up with spells in an orphanage and living on the streets. He never found out what happened to his brother.

At the orphanage he developed a reputation for running away, so much so that when Keith Sanderson travelled from the UK in 1988 to adopt Edson he wasn't sure if he'd even be there.

Keith and his wife Jennifer, from Wiltshire, were told they were too old to adopt in the UK so instead had found Edson through a US agency.

image copyrightEd Sanders
image captionEdson's adoptive parents

From Edson's perspective it was all very sudden: "The people at the orphanage said, 'Do you want to have a family?' and I said, Yes'. Then they brought in this huge man and I just remember walking over and hugging his leg."

The Sandersons also adopted an older boy called Cleverson and a couple of weeks later the boys found themselves in a new country, with new parents and a new language to learn.

"My adopted family were incredibly loving," says Edson, who now lives in Trowbridge. "Although for the first month I hated the food and it was extremely cold.

"I remember actually going out looking for snow, because Cleverson and I thought it was an object just lying around like gravel rather than the weather."

image copyrightEdson Sanderson
image captionEdson today with his wife Catherine and children

By the time Edson was 18, the urge to find his birth parents had really taken hold but his first search in 1998 on an ancestry website yielded nothing.

Having his own children in the years that followed only deepened his desire to connect with his roots but it wasn't until December 2018, when his wife Catherine had the idea of harnessing the power of social media, that his luck changed.

image copyrightEd Sanderson
image captionThe appeal Edson posted on Facebook

She posted a photo on Facebook of Edson along with all the information he had on his Brazilian family from his adoption papers.

They were not really prepared for the speed with which the post was read and shared by thousands of people.

"Within 24 hours I had a message from my niece saying, 'I am sitting here with your father now,'" Edson recalls.

Edson's birth-father Ananias, a former sugar cane worker, says he had given up all hope of finding Edson and Emerson.

He says when their mother took them to Sao Paulo all those years ago she'd promised she'd be back soon. "She'd even taken money from our neighbours saying she would buy things there for them," Ananias remembers.

When he discovered that she had left him for another man and had no intention of returning, he asked his sister to go to Sao Paulo to track the boys down.

"She couldn't find any trace of them or their mother," he says. "I was devastated."

Decades later when he saw Edson's post, he says he was overwhelmed. "It felt like I'd become a father again.

"It was such a good moment. I was really really happy but also grateful to the family that had raised him in England."

Although Edson was overjoyed when he was reunited with his father a few months later in Brazil, he was conscious of the time they'd lost.

"I was meeting a stranger," he says. "Growing up I couldn't even remember what my dad had looked like."

image copyrightEd Sanderson
image captionThe moment Edson and his father finally met

They were still waiting for the results of a DNA test to confirm the paternal link but decided not to delay the reunion because of Ananias's ill health.

After a week they'd formed a new connection and the bond was cemented over a football match.

"We both just sat on his bed watching his team, Sao Paulo, and had a beer together. That's the thing all boys aspire to with their dad.

"Every time I saw him after that I'd give him a big hug and kiss."

image copyrightEdson Sanderson
image captionEdson (left), with his relative Tika and father Ananias

Although finding his father was a dream come true for Edson he says he'll never be satisfied while his brother remains missing.

He had always hoped his mother would have the answer and, in an odd twist of fate, he was finally able to ask her.

A private investigator in Sao Paulo had seen the Facebook appeal and tracked her down.

A Skype call was arranged but Edson recalls that she was evasive. "When I asked her what had happened to me and to Emerson all she would say was that she couldn't remember."

Disappointed but undeterred, Edson says his search for Emerson will continue.

While the DNA results eventually confirmed Ananias's paternity the joy was sadly short-lived. In June, Edson's father died peacefully in his sleep.

However, Edson says meeting with Ananias was the best decision he's ever made. "I had a gut feeling this was my biological family," he says.

"I found him and he died knowing his boy is safe and well."

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