Twins Separated at Birth: 12 Real Stories That Will Give You Goosebumps

Imagine discovering as an adult that another person has been living an entirely different life with your face, temperament, and genes.

William Cañas Velasco and Jorge Enrique Bernal Castro

William Cañas Velasco and Jorge Enrique Bernal CastroCourtesy Dr. Nancy L. Segal

Two women visited a butcher shop in northern Bogotá, Colombia, in 2013. One of them greeted her friend William, the man behind the counter; the other woman was sure she recognized the same man as Jorge, a colleague from her office. She was wrong, but she later showed Jorge photos of William, and as he browsed through the other man’s Facebook photos, he was amazed at the similarity. Jorge’s amazement became bewilderment though, when he saw one particular photograph on William’s feed, showing the man who looked exactly like himself next to a man who looked exactly like his own fraternal twin brother. Read on to see what happened next in this story of twins separated at birth.

Carlos Alberto Bernal Castro and Wilber Cañas Velasco

Carlos Alberto Bernal Castro and Wilber Cañas VelascoCourtesy Dr. Nancy L. Segal

Both Jorge and William had grown up with what they believed were their fraternal twins, Carlos and Wilber, and when they found each other it was clear that they had actually been two sets of identical twins who got mismatched. Because of digestive problems, infant Carlos had been moved from the rural hospital where he was born to the Bogotá hospital where the other set of twins was born, and somehow got switched with William during the first days of their lives. The four men—age 24 when they discovered each other—began an intense process of getting to know one another and found that the identical twins shared more traits than the brothers who had grown up together. “One pair always thought that the bumps on their noses were due to a fall, and when they met their twin they knew it was a genetically influenced trait,” says Nancy L. Segal, PhD, a psychology professor at California State University in Fullerton who has written several books about twins, including a recent one,  Accidental Brothers, about the Castro and Velasco brothers. “In the other pair, both were very fashion-conscious, despite one being raised in the country and the other in the city.” Here are more fascinating facts about twins.

Jim Springer and Jim Lewis

Jim Springer and Jim LewisCourtesy The Jim Twins/Dr. Nancy L. Segal

Twins who reunite after being separated at birth provide a very rich field of study, helping researchers like Dr. Segal tease out which aspects of personalities, appearances, and physical conditions are most influenced by genetics rather than environment—the old nature-versus-nurture debate. When the then-39-year-old “Jim twins” met one another in 1979 after having grown up separately in adoptive families about 40 miles away from one another in Ohio, they shared a remarkable number of habits and experiences: Both had married women named Linda, divorced, and married women named Betty; both suffered from bad headaches, smoked Salem cigarettes, drove blue Chevrolets, and had named their first sons James Alan and James Allan. “I do not regard these really as coincidences,” says Segal, also the author of Twin Mythconceptions: False Beliefs, Fables, and Facts About Twins. “Rather, they’re genetically influenced commonalities that may ‘masquerade’ as coincidences.” Media reports about the Jim twins separated at birth inspired a psychologist named Dr. Thomas Bouchard to start a 20-year investigation called the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (MISTRA), which Nancy Segal worked on for several years.

Eddy Galland, Robert Shafran, and David Kellman

Eddy Galland, Robert Shafran, and David KellmanCourtesy NEON Rated

These identical triplets also participated in the MISTRA study after they found one another in 1980 at age 19—Robert started attending college in upstate New York and was approached by multiple people who greeted him and called him Eddy. When he met Eddy, it was clear they were brothers who had been separated (they had both been adopted and shared a birthday), they were featured in newspapers, which David saw, leading him to get in touch as well. The triplets moved into an apartment in Manhattan together and were popular around New York’s social scene, even opening a restaurant called Triplets. A film about their experience (Three Identical Strangers) won a special jury prize for documentary storytelling at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival—it describes how the brothers’ initial happiness at finding one another led to the disturbing discovery that the adoption agency that handled their cases had purposefully separated them in order to facilitate a study of multiples growing up in different circumstances. Their parents had never even been told that they had brothers.

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