"Twins who accidentally got married" is probably an urban legend

On the Heresy Corner blog, The Heresiarch has been writing about the recent news of twins who were adopted separately at birth and got married without knowing they were siblings. He makes a good cases that it's BS.

He also links to Jon Henley's column in The Guardian:

Assuming your brain is still functioning like the well-oiled piece of precision engineering it is, your response would, I trust, be: "That's a wind-up if ever I heard one. Think about it for a minute - you mean these two meet by accident, discover not only that they were both adopted but were born on exactly the same day in exactly the same town, and still never pause to wonder whether they might be related? Pull the other one. What did it say on their birth certificates?"
Link (Thanks, Emperor!)


  1. Here is the ultimate source for the story. A statement in parliament by Lord Alton of Liverpool. He claims to have actually spoken with the High Court Judge who “annulled” the “marriage”.


    Said he:

    I was recently in conversation with a High Court judge who was telling me of a case he had dealt with. This did not involve in vitro fertilisation; it involved the normal birth of twins who were separated at birth and adopted by separate parents. They were never told that they were twins. They met later in life and felt an inevitable attraction, and the judge had to deal with the consequences of the marriage that they entered into and all the issues of their separation.

    Misleading the House of Lords in this way would be a pretty serious matter. I wonder if he’ll be disciplined.

  2. Of course it’s true. Haven’t you seen Star Wars or Say It Ain’t So? This happens more often than you think, probably every day. In every country.

  3. Identical twins reunited after 35 years

    Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein lived very similar lives. They were
    both born in New York, edited their high school newspapers and studied
    film at university. And both were adopted in 1968.

    It was only at the age of 35 that they discovered each other and just
    how similar they were: identical twins who had been separated as
    infants in a bizarre social experiment.

    It came to light when Elyse, who had been living in Paris, had decided
    to seek her birth mother. She was told that the mother was not
    interested in meeting her, but was then informed that she had an
    identical twin, Paula.

  4. Well, if they were born in a city as big as London or New York City, the odds of being born on the same date in the same city aren’t all that remote. Most would just write it off as “an interesting coincidence”

  5. I can’t wait to hear Lord Alton of Liverpool talk about how his High Court friend was also involved in a case determing custody of a dog found lost at sea, when the dog turned out to be a large sewer rat!

  6. Okay, so truth is stranger than fiction…
    This is why I don’t like sperm banks. When there are that many anonymous donors, what’s the chance mathematically that half siblings will eventually marry and have offspring? Now imagine Mother and daughter happened by chance to have the same donor (through the miracle of freezing “donations”). What could this lead to? Before anyone shouts out “In-bred Rednecks!” remember that Europe’s royalty had this type of problem from acts PERFORMED ON PURPOSE centuries back. (Well… look at Prince Charles’ ears… you call that normal? Maybe the deformity skips 9-10 generations.)

  7. Humph to Jon Henley. Someone needs to do a bit of research before debunking.

    I am adopted. It was explained to my adoptive parents that my birthdate and place of birth had been obscured in order to protect the identity of my birth mother. It took quite a lot of digging to establish my place of birth, and I am still uncertain of my actual birthday. At one time this was a standard practice. The altered date and place are listed on my birth certificate.

  8. I saw a documentary where the actress Tricia Fisher (daughter of Eddie, half-sister of Carrie) was describing how her half-brother Todd was flirting with her at a party, not realizing that they were related. So it’s not impossible for long-lost siblings to fall for each other.

    But going as far as getting married? Being born on the same date in the same city might be written off as an “interesting coincidence” but if they were both adopted and presumably had some physical resemblance, wouldn’t the idea that they might be related come up at some point, even as a joke? Even if the two of them were so blinded by attraction as to dismiss it, you’d think one of their friends or family would have said, “You know, you might want to investigate this.”

  9. this isn’t as off-the-charts impossible as you might expect. a friend of mine ended up dating his long lost sister, and after too many strange coincidences, they got wind of the possibility and got genetic testing done.

    for the freakout-ness of it all, they earned a free stint on oprah, but i wouldn’t recommend that sort of situation for anyone.

  10. I think it is a very old legend; the Scottish singer Andy M Stewart who sang with the 1980s band Silly Wizard wrote a song called “The Orphan’s Wedding” that was supposedly based upon the very same “true” story.

  11. mr_tumnus001, to the best of my knowledge, modern sperm banks don’t allow anonymous donations. People don’t want to leave this sort of thing to chance. Donors typically are on the hook for donations at a regular interval for a certain period of time, until they are matched with the recipient parent(s). They are effectively assigned to one family, and one only. Most sperm banks also keep contact information for all of their donors, in the even that the child needs to contact the biological father later in life (presumably only for questions about family medical history).

  12. I have three sets of relatives who were all born on the same day and are/were married to each other – my grandparents (both dead), and two sets of aunts and uncles (ie. my aunts have the same birthdate as their husbands).

    Only my granparents weren’t born in the same town, the others were.

    Not as unlikely as it would seem.

  13. @Thermo: It crossed my mind that certain details might have been redacted in their birth certificates (specifically which hospital and birth parents’ name) but it hadn’t occurred to me that the date and city might be altered as well. And I’m assuming they both knew they were adopted which may not have been true.

    Interestingly, the Snopes message board on this topic doesn’t bring up the question of “urban legend” until the second page. There are similar cases on record and this story is certainly possible – but as any fan of urban legends knows, the idea that the story “could have happened” is what keeps it circulating over time rather than being dismissed as a tall tale. So far, the only source for the story is David Alton’s speech (and politicians don’t always know what they’re talking about – c.f. “a series of tubes”) which was delivered in support of a particular piece of legislation. Until there’s some documentation or a reliable witness, the story should really be counted as rumor.

  14. As an identical twin whose mother is an adoption researcher and support provider (no, I’m not adopted, but I’ve heard countless stories and read plenty of books about twins and adoption), I’d like to point out that stories like these are not as uncommon as you might think. Many of you have previously made this point, and I think that just because some guy on a blog came up with a couple not-so-well-thought-out ideas for why it might be an urban legend doesn’t mean it is. I’ve met plenty of people, through my mother’s work, who have had even more bizarre stories than this. Not to mention that in many cases of adoption, if there even are records, they are usually extremely difficult for a person to get, even if they have medical reasons to request them, and often are changed or filled in with incorrect information in the first place. These two people might not have even had copies of their birth certificates, or if they did they might have had incorrect info.
    Perhaps that piece of precision engineering needs a bit more oil, or instead of “debunking” the story with speculation, he could do some good old-fashioned fact-checking. It really supports an argument better.

  15. I think it’s possible, but aren’t there a series of blood tests one must go through before getting married?

  16. Blood tests before getting married? I thought that was just for when you stopped using condoms!

  17. I doubt it’s an urban legend. Until recently, many people were not told they were adopted: it was considered something to be hidden (which, clearly, it is not considered to be anymore).
    In that case, they may have been adopted to families in completely different towns, and their birth certificates would reflect that their parents are their adoptive parents and their place of birth was the town where their adoptive parents lived.

    Of course, if it all worked out the way the man in this article supposes, it’s probably an urban myth after all.

  18. I’m adopted and grew up 30 mins away from my birth family, which is quite extensive. None of my cousins look even remotely like me, nor does my sister. I could have walked smack dab into any of them (and maybe did) and not known it.

    Just because you’re biologically related doesn’t necessarily mean you look alike. And I would assume that twins separated at birth were then placed in different towns, and may not have had much, if any access to their records.

  19. As someone who has adopted a child from Russia, II can tell you that the Judge in the case actually wanted us to change the birthdate on our daughter’s birth certificate to better suit our family’s situation. How she thought it would help is really beyond me. My wife and I insisted that we leave well enough alone. We didn’t want to have our child feel like all of her birthdates ere a lie when she came of age.

    I do understand that adoption laws are differant from country to country.

  20. Definitely an urban legend. UK birth registration law requires that the actual time of birth of each or a pair of twins and so on for triplets etc is recorded on a birth certificate. It is an offence to fail to give the registrar accurate information. Many years ago as a reporter on a UK tabloid newspaper I came across a male teacher at a well-known girls’ school who posed as his female twin. His birth certificate nailed the lie. Still good story though and you know what they say. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  21. What’s interesting about this is that there are literally tons of stories like this in ancient mythologies. One interpreation (if you’re into Jungian psychoanalysis, which I think is really cool)is that basically that it symbolizes the desire for a “union” of the male and female aspects that reside in all of us. One of the most well-known adaptations of these myths is Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle (based on eddic mythology), in which a long-lost twins reunite (and even have a child who goes on to destroy the gods). So basically — true or not– these incest stories have been circulating for literally thousands of years (though for obvious reasons, these same societies never advocated incest in “real-life.”)

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