Port Lincoln man's search finds German family

Neil Ashman (centre) with members of the family he found in Germany, Hilda, Treen, Leo, Magdalena, Jerome, Christian, Neil, Max, Elke, Karin, Marc and Michael.
Neil Ashman (centre) with members of the family he found in Germany, Hilda, Treen, Leo, Magdalena, Jerome, Christian, Neil, Max, Elke, Karin, Marc and Michael.

PORT Lincoln man Neil Ashman set off on his first overseas trip last month with more trepidation than most, as he prepared to reunite with his birth mother and meet the siblings he never knew he had.

Mr Ashman grew up knowing he had been adopted at birth by his parents, Betty and Kelvin Ashman from Kapinnie, and he is still happy they are his mother and father - "I had the best life," he said.

But after his mother died his father said if he wanted to look for his birth parents he could so in 1998 he started looking but came to a dead end.

"I put all the paperwork I had in my briefcase and that's where it stayed until 2010 when I applied to (ABC TV show) Can We Help," Mr Ashman said.

The show's researchers got him to do a marriage search in South Australia but it came back with no matches and they contacted him again in early 2011 to say they could not do anymore because the show would not be continuing.

However Births, Deaths and Marriages had suggested a number of websites, one of which was the National Archives of Australia, so Mr Ashman put in his mother's name and eventually found a bit of information.

"It gave me limited information so I applied for the full information and when we got back from travelling for six months in 2011 there was a package from the National Archives of Australia, which had all (my mother's) immigration paperwork in it.

"From there I rang Adoptions SA again who put me onto International Social Services (ISS) who have agencies all over the world and luckily one in Germany.

"Two weeks later ISS rang and told him his mother was alive, living in a nursing home in Germany and she was happy to hear from him.

Around May last year he wrote to her and in June he received a reply from a friend of hers who told him he had twin half sisters and a half brother, and a number of nieces and nephews.

"I started wondering from that moment what they were like and how I could get in contact with them."

But, thanks to social networking, he didn't have to wonder for long.

"Four months after I got my letter back my twin sisters were handed the letter that I wrote to my birth mother and that day one of my sisters went looking on Facebook and found me, it was the best thing."

"She sent me a friend request I said yes and we were emailing that day, then we emailed weekly for a while just to get to know each other."

The next step was to meet them in person so he and his partner Treen and friend Lorraine Fauser booked tickets to Germany for the trip of a lifetime, which was also his first trip out of Australia.

His first meeting with his sisters at Frankfurt Airport at the end of June came about only a year after he first found out they existed.

"There were tears and smiles and hugs.

"If you had had expectations they would have been exceeded.

"We sat up for the next six hours at my sister's house talking and the emotion was still pouring out."

He had had no contact with his half brother before he arrived in Germany, "and he hugged me the hardest and cried the longest".

Over the next couple of days he also met his mother for the first time, which was another emotional reunion, although she never gave him any information about his father.

Before they read Mr Ashman's letter to their mother Brigitta his sisters and brother had no idea he existed, apart from a photograph of a baby they found while cleaning out their mother's house.

"She never spoke about me or her two and a half years in Australia," Mr Ashman said.

So there was plenty for he and his sisters and brother to catch up on, along with lots of sightseeing around Germany with one of his sisters.

"My brother said to me on the last night I spent with him, 'I haven't know you for 42 years and you went away for a week and I missed you'."

Mr Ashman said leaving Germany to come back to Australia was harder than arriving, "there were a lot more tears", but plans are already in place for his siblings to visit Australia and a return trip to Germany in 2015.