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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A backlog of ‘brother stuff’

Recently acquainted siblings say they’re enjoying what they didn’t know they’d been missing

John Mellinger, of Spokane, visits with his brother, Dan Newburn, left, via Skype on Dec. 18. They found each other in 2008 after a lifetime (Dan Pelle)
John Mellinger, of Spokane, visits with his brother, Dan Newburn, left, via Skype on Dec. 18. They found each other in 2008 after a lifetime (Dan Pelle)

For most of their lives, John Mellinger and Dan Newburn didn’t know they were brothers.

Now they talk almost every day via an Internet video phone. Their wives have become friends. They tease and josh each other and trade tips for programs and shortcuts on their Macs. In the space of about six months, their relationship has flourished, the long-lost brothers say.

“I feel like I’ve found something that was missing,” said Mellinger, 70, a longtime Spokane resident and retired barber. “I didn’t really know it was missing, but I’m glad I found it.”

Newburn, a pastor, journalist and photographer from Las Vegas, said virtually the same thing in a separate interview.

“Am I glad I found John? You betcha,” he said. “It’s added a whole new dimension to my family. … It filled a hole in my heart I didn’t even know I had until I met him.”

The two men were adopted separately about 70 years ago. Mellinger, who grew up in Boise and Baltimore, knew for 30 years that he had a brother. Back then, he’d tried to find his brother through adoption records in Boise, but privacy regulations at the time blocked his access to the information. He left a note in his case file, urging anyone with information to contact him.

Last July, Newburn began investigating his own background. His search led him to his own file in Boise, to the names of his biological parents – and to Mellinger’s note. Newburn Googled Mellinger, found him on Facebook, and sent a message.

“I went on Facebook and saw his picture and oh, boy, there was no doubt about it,” Mellinger said earlier this year. “He was my brother.”

In a matter of days, the brothers were talking on Skype. Newburn traveled to Spokane in July, and they met face to face for the first time.

Stories like theirs are becoming more common in the age of online connections. The Internet has made it easier to search family histories and track down people around the country. “Facebook reunions” of adopted siblings or long-lost family members are becoming a fact of life.

Often those reunions are like Mellinger and Newburn’s – the people are happy to have found their families. But not everyone wants to start brand-new family relationships, especially later in life.

Newburn discovered that firsthand as he dug deeper into his own family tree. They’d known that their parents’ lives had been troubled. Their dad was a heavy drinker and likely abusive, and it emerged later that he’d probably spent time in prison, Newburn said.

“He was not the poster boy for dad of the year,” Newburn said.

But when he and Mellinger first connected last summer, neither knew that their dad had two other children from a previous marriage. And their mother had more children, too – three kids from a later marriage.

Newburn has tracked down those half-brothers and half-sisters. Some of them are more interested in connecting than others.

Mellinger and Newburn, though, have fallen into a regular pattern.

“We talk almost every day,” Mellinger said. “We call each other on Skype and yak and yak and yak.”

They’ve found they share a similar sense of humor and like to kid in the competitive way of siblings.

“We like to tease each other a little bit,” Mellinger said. “Just brother stuff.”

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