For nearly 20 years, one Alberta woman has mourned the loss of her little sister.
Samantha Ward doesn’t know whether her half-sister Tiffany Dawn Ward is alive or dead.
“I just need to know that she’s okay. Even if I can’t be a part of her life, I just want her to know that that I always loved her," the 34-year-old mom told HuffPost Canada.
The two girls are nearly ten years apart, but shared the same Calgary home, where Samantha said drugs, drinking and abuse were rampant. They spent years in and out of foster care.
“I literally would sleep under her crib to make sure nobody hurt her at night,” she said.
In 1994, when Samantha was in Grade 5 and Tiffany was small, the girls were taken away from their biological mother for good. Tiffany was placed with her paternal grandmother. When Samantha was 13, she ended up with foster parents who accepted her as their own child. She still calls them mom and dad.
Tiffany had health problems. Epilepsy caused up to 300 seizures a day, Samantha said. When her grandmother died, she was put into a home for children with disabilities in Vulcan, Alta. Her older sister fought with social services for visitation privileges.
“After she was placed there, I got a phone call asking about if she was to be adopted, would it be OK if it was open adoption so I could keep contact,” she said. She said yes.
A few years later, after a teenage Samantha ran away from her foster home, she lost privileges to visit Tiffany in Vulcan.
“I haven’t been able to find out anything since right before my 16th birthday.”
“As far as I know, she may have been told her whole life that nobody loved her. I just need her to know otherwise."
She doesn’t know if Tiffany was adopted. A request for voluntary contact through Alberta’s post-adoption registry turned up nothing.
She plans to resubmit it with more information she’s gained, and then search in other provinces.
According to Alberta Children’s Services, both Samantha and Tiffany have to voluntarily register for the system to trigger a match.
Birth parents can also file a request for records of adoptions, if they were granted before Jan. 1, 2005.
But those who don’t want their biological family members to find out about their adoptive homes can submit a veto to prevent the release of their information, as long as they were adopted before that date.
Samantha reached out on Monday to the last social worker she had to see if she might be able to help.
And last week she turned to social media, posting photos of her and Tiffany together, and was shocked by the response. Nearly 1,800 people have shared her post, with several sending her links to Facebook profiles.
She's discovered hundreds of Tiffany Dawn Wards on Facebook.
The two girls have the same eyes, she said, so that’s what she pays attention to in photos. Her sister also has a strawberry birthmark on her back.
Social media has worked before. She managed to locate two other half-siblings fathered by her dad, and four years later, they found him too, in Victoria, B.C.
But she’s unsure whether Tiffany would even be on Facebook. She remembers some discussion of brain surgery to deal with her epilepsy when she was a child.
“I don’t even know if she’s even mentally capable to have a Facebook page,” she said.
“I don’t even know if she’s alive.”
Her cousin Jessica, who was raised in the same home, has also been searching for her younger brother Randy. They both keep hitting dead ends. Another of Randy’s siblings has hired a private investigator.
Samantha said her sister wouldn’t remember just how traumatic her childhood had been, because she was so young.
“As far as I know, she may have been told her whole life that nobody loved her. I just need her to know otherwise,” she said.
“Even if she doesn’t want anything to do with us, that’s fine. I can accept that, but I can’t accept not doing anything about it anymore. I can’t live with that.”