A WOMAN without a single living relative was astonished when her work mate found her an entire new family.

PA Hilary Stoddart, 42, was left orphaned when her adoptive parents and brother all died.

She hated special occasions, dreaded birthdays and was jealous of friends when they spoke about their families.

Then one day at work she saw a group email from work mate Michael Tobias who was studying genealogy and looking for a case study.

Lonely Hilary volunteered and just four months later her life was transformed.

He’d found her a new dad, half sister, aunt, uncle, and several nieces and nephews.

Hilary said: ‘I just can’t believe it. I went to work without a single-family member and thanks to Michael’s email I’m now part of a whole new fantastic family. It feels amazing and I can’t thank him enough.’

As Mum poured us a glass of orange squash I noticed my friend looking first at her, then me, in confusion.

‘Why don’t you look like your Mummy?’ she eventually asked.

‘Because I didn’t grow in my Mummy’s tummy, she chose me instead,’ I said proudly.

I can’t remember first being told I was adopted. It was just something I grew up knowing. Just like I knew my big brother David wasn’t my real brother.

Mum and Dad had always wanted more children but miscarriage followed miscarriage and when David was eight, they’d adopted me through the Church of Scotland where Dad was a minister, after my young birth parents had split up. I was five months old.

Knowing they weren’t my real parents didn’t bother me. If anything, it made me feel special.

Only as I entered my teens, I couldn’t stop feeling a little bit left out. Whereas my best friend was a mini version of her mother, me and Mum couldn’t have looked more different.

While Mum was tall and willowy with blonde hair – like Dad and David – I was short and curvy with a head of brown curls.

I wish I looked like somebody I’d think to myself as I looked in the mirror. Anybody would do…

Then, was I was 13, Mumdied of lung cancer. She was just 51.

David was devastated. They’d always been so close.

As for me, although I was very upset, I took comfort in the fact that I still had a real mum out there somewhere.

One day I’ll find her too, I’d tell myself before I drifted off to sleep.

Still, losing mum made me grow up quickly. Dad was great but more than anything I wished I had a sister to talk to about things.

Three years later, Dad remarried. I liked his new wife Chris very much, was happy to have a motherfigure in my life again. But I never called her ‘Mum’.

When I was 17, Dad was forced to take early retirement due to ill health and we moved to Fife. I started work as an office junior and three years later, left home and got married.

‘Are you sure about this?’ Dad asked, concerned. ‘You’re so young.’

I was absolutely certain – I was building a family of my own.

But Dad had been right. I wasn’t ready for marriage. I was just looking for an escape after Mum’s death. My husband and I split up shortly afterwards.

And I wasn’t the only one left feeling abandoned. David was struggling too…

Unable to move on from Mum’s death, he’d turned to drink to help him cope. I tried to help him but he pushed me away. It broke my heart. We’d always been so close.

Eventually though, he started to get his life back on track.

‘I’ve not had a drink today, Hilary.’ He’d call and tell me.

‘Brilliant!’ I’d reply. I was so proud of him, my big brother.

But then, tragedy struck. The hostel where David had been living went up in flames. He died aged 33.

I was gutted. Another family member – gone.

I’d always been a ‘daddy’s girl’, but David’s death brought Dad and I even closer. We might not have looked the same, but we shared similar personalities. We were both calm, caring and tried not to judge people.

‘You never know what other people have gone through,’ he’d tell me.

I tried to remember that when I wondered how my birth parents had given me up.

So when I met Graham Welsh, 40, through work when I was 32, it was important that he and Dad got on too.

‘He’s a lovely bloke,’ he smiled. ‘A great addition to the family!’

We spent many times over at Dad and Chris’s.  But then when I was 38, Dad died.

Although David’s death had hit me hard, this was like being run over by a bulldozer. To have lost both my parents and my brother was just awful. I retreated into myself and pushed everyone, including Graham, away.

When colleagues moaned about their parents I wanted to shake them. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are!’ I wanted to yell. ‘I’d do anything to be able to have my mum and dad back.’

I felt bitter when my girlfriends said they were going shopping or for coffee with their mums. I wanted someone to share that with. Chris was lovely but she wasn’t my mum.

I’d even find myself shouting at the feuding families on Jeremy Kyle. If only I had the option to pick up the phone and give David a ring…

But worse of all was Mother’s and Father’s Day. I’d torture myself by going into shops and looking at the cards and think which one I’d have chosen for Mum or Dad. It was crazy really, I usually hated all that schmaltz and yet I’d find myself in tears over the sentimental verses.

By the time my 40th birthday approached I knew I couldn’t go on like this. It was time to find my birth parents. I’d always been worried about upsetting Dad before – even though he’d probably have been fine about it.

I contacted Scottish Adoption to request my birth certificate and papers and was assigned a case worker. But when the forms arrived I started to panic.

‘What if they don’t want to know me?’ I fretted to Graham. ‘I couldn’t handle the rejection.’

So I stuffed them in a drawer and tried to forget about them.

Then the following February, Michael Tobias, a colleague at the investment company where I worked, sent around an email explaining he needed a volunteer on which to base his postgraduate diploma in genealogy – the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history.

‘You should email him!’ my colleagues encouraged. I’d always been open about the fact I’d been adopted.

So I gave him a call.

‘This sounds perfect!’ he said.

Carried along with his excitement I agreed to give him the go-ahead.

Michael called me every few days to update me on his progress. Then, a month on, he rang me with exciting news – he’d found Mum’s husband and her married name.

It felt amazing to know she was out there.

But then he delivered the bombshell – he’d found her death certificate too. She’d died the year before, just after my 40th birthday..

I was devastated. I always thought she was there somewhere so to find out she had died crushed me.

‘I just wanted her to know I was never angry with her,’ I sobbed to Graham that evening.

But I couldn’t help feeling angry at myself. If only I’d acted sooner…I’d missed out on knowing her by just a few months.

Struggling with the guilt and disappoint I shut myself off from everyone, including Graham. Nothing anyone said – not even Michael’s latest discoveries – could cheer me up. Only one thing could do that and now it was never going to happen…

And then one morning I woke up and decided that I had to find my dad. I couldn’t live with myself if he slipped through my fingers too.

So I called Michael, told him I was back on board. And the following month the phone rang –

‘I’ve found him!’ Michael cried.

I told myself not to get too excited as my caseworker at Scottish Adoption sent him a letter to my dad’s sister’s address – the only one they had – for her to pass on.

Two weeks passed and…nothing.

He doesn’t want to know, I convinced myself.

Then the following week I was off work sick when my case worker called.

‘I’ve got some news for you,’ she said. ‘I’ve just spoken to your dad!’

‘Really?’ I gulped. I didn’t know what else to say.

‘Yes, and he’s lovely,’ she told me. ‘His first question was – “Is she angry at me?”

I started crying then.

His name was Frank McCaffrey. He was 62 and lived in The Wirral.

‘I’ve told him you’d call him,’ she continued.

I looked at the number I’d scribbled on the pad. What on earth was I going to say?

I felt sick as I typed in the number.

‘Hi. It’s Hillary,’ I said nervously.  ‘I just wanted to call and get that first awkward ‘hello’ out of the way.’

‘Hello,’ he said shyly.

I told him I’d call him again that evening at six. Worried I’d look too eager I waited until half-past.

‘Are you angry at me?’ he asked when he answered.

‘Not at all,’ I replied.

I’d just found my dad after 42 years…why would I be angry?!

Frank was easy to chat to. It was like I’d known him all my life…even though neither of us even knew what the other looked like.

I asked him about his life. He told me he was divorced and that I had a half-sister called Andrea, 29. I was delighted.

‘I always wanted a pony and a baby sister!’ I laughed.

‘I’m afraid I can’t help with the pony.’ He said.

We spoke again a few days later…and again a few days after that.

Graham and my friends noticed the change in me immediately.
‘You’re like a different person,’ they said. ‘We’ve never seen you do happy.’

Dad asked me to send him a photo.

‘You’re definitely a McCaffrey,’ he said to me the next time we spoke. ‘You look just like your sister.

I was over the moon. I’d never looked like anyone in my family…until now.

I spoke to Andrea the next day.

‘Hi Sis!’ she joked.

There was lots of giggling and she told me all about herself, including my three nieces and nephew.

‘I can’t believe I’m an auntie!’ I laughed. Overnight, I’d gained a whole new family.

But there was still onething that was bothering me –

‘I don’t know what to call you,’ I told Frank after a few weeks.

‘Well what would you like to call me?’ he asked.

‘Well…Dad?’ I said tentatively.

No one could ever replace my Dad but perhaps Frank could take over the helm for him now?

‘I’d like that very much,’ he said, his voice cracking.

That August Dad came to see me for the first time. I felt sick with nerves as I met him off the train in Kirkcaldy.

I felt like I was in a film as we walked down the platform towards each other and I threw my arms around him.

We had a great time, getting to know each other and two months later, I went down to meet the rest of my family. They couldn’t have made me feel more welcome.

‘Hello Auntie Hillary!’ Andrea’s children chorused.

‘Oh Hillary, it feels like you’ve always been a part of us,’ my Dad’s sister Denise said, drawing me into a big hug. ‘Like you’ve just been away for a wee while and now you’re back. I hope you’ll call me Auntie Denise,’ she added.

It was all so overwhelming…and lovely.

Now, five months on, we all speak and text regularly.  I really feel like I’m part of the family.

When I first contacted Dad I felt a little bit guilty, like I was betraying my adoptive parents but now I feel fantastic. After feeling alone for so long to get a text signed from my sister or my dad makes my heart swell.

I can’t thank Michael enough. Going into work that day changed my life. It feels wonderful to be part of a family again. Finally, all the sadness I’ve been through seems worth it. I know Mum and Dad and David would be glad I’m happy.