The family resemblance is obvious when you see Margaret Sutton together with her two long-lost sisters, Kate Wilson and Aileen Pittuck.
But it’s not until the three women speak, and you hear three different accents, that you realise how fascinating their story is.
Margaret, who moved to Auckland in 1975, was born in Scotland out of wedlock when her birth mother, Margaruite Edwards, put her into foster care in 1944. After searching for her family in 1980, Margaret discovered that her mother had moved to Australia and she had four other siblings.
“Growing up in a foster home, I always felt incomplete, but I knew that one day I would find my family,” explains 70-year-old Margaret.
“It was hard at first because I didn’t know if they’d accept me. I’ve got a good marriage and four lovely children, so I knew I wouldn’t get too upset. But when I met them, we just clicked and now we have a great relationship.”
Margaret thought the happy reunion would be the end of her search, but this year she discovered there was another missing piece to the family puzzle.
Describing herself as a “bit of a psychic”, Margaret felt the urge to do a Google search of her mum’s maiden name, Elrick, in August. She was shocked to discover she had a sister, Aileen, who was currently living in Scotland – another secret her mother kept from the family.
“I saw this notice in a Scottish newspaper from 2006 come up and Aileen’s daughter had written a message looking for us. She was just like me and also given up for adoption.”
Margaret immediately called her sister, 55-year-old Kate, in Australia and they both contacted Aileen (60) in Scotland. Their 89-year-old mother is still alive in Australia, but has Alzheimer’s.
They approached her and asked about their other sister, but have not been able to get her to explain why she kept it hidden all these years.
“She’s a very secretive woman our mother,” says Kate.
“I think at the time it was the shame or embarrassment of having children out of wedlock. There’s more to the story that we may never know.
“She doesn’t remember everything. Even if she could remember she wouldn’t tell us. I did ask her, ‘Are there any more children stashed away?’ But she wouldn’t let anything out of the bag. If Margaret hadn’t found us, we would never know about her.”
Until that point, the sisters had only been in contact through phone calls and emails, but Kate and Aileen surprised their older sister earlier this month when they flew over – Kate from Australia and Aileen from Scotland – to Auckland for Margaret’s 70th birthday celebrations.
It’s the first time Margaret had met Aileen, who came off the plane wearing a giant bow, and she says it was the best birthday present she has ever received.
“It was an amazing occasion,” Margaret recalls. “We hit it off straight away and discovered how much we have in common. Kate and Aileen are both cake decorators and, just like me, Aileen married a serviceman 13 years older. We were both accountants and we worked for a transport company.”
The three sisters have been enjoying spending time with Margaret before they fly home. They say despite years of not knowing each other, they will be making up for lost time.
“Before there was a black hole in my life,” says Aileen.
“People say I look happier and ask what I’ve done. I tell them I’ve found my family. I feel more complete in my life.”