Margaret Miller met her mother only briefly - at birth - but she's now learning she's a carbon copy of the woman who gave her up for adoption more than 75 years ago.

Margaret's story began in Sussex in 1940 and has brought her to Northland, where she's meeting family she didn't know she had.

It is all thanks to the determination of her son, Iain, who took on the daunting task of finding his mother's family.

Margaret enjoyed a happy childhood but, as her two siblings didn't look a bit like her, she wasn't surprised when a family member told her she'd been adopted.


Aged 20, newly married and unwilling to upset her adoptive parents who'd shown her nothing but love and kindness, Margaret kept this secret to herself.

"I never felt as if it needed to be pursued. I thought it was likely to be a waste of time, and there's the fear of the unknown."

But soon after her adoptive mother died in 1989, friends told Margaret they'd seen someone in Sussex who looked like her. That was all it took.

Her son Iain's research revealed Margaret's birth mother, Dorothy, had married an Alexander Tolmie, an Australian who'd been in New Zealand when World War II broke out.

He'd joined the army and his unit had been shipped to England.

There he met and married Dorothy who gave birth to their son, Keith, in Sussex. The family had sailed from Liverpool to New Zealand in February 1944.

At this stage of the search Margaret was excited but nervous. What if they found her family, but they had no interest in meeting her?

Alexander Tolmie's 1989 death certificate showed proof of other children. Electoral rolls showed where Alexander and Dorothy had lived and revealed a Keith Tolmie.

"The final bit of the jigsaw was the white pages," says Iain who, after two months of intense research, wrote to Keith in 2014. Both mother and son were on edge.

"We don't know what his reaction's going to be or even if it's the right person," Margaret recalls thinking.

In Auckland, when Keith read Iain's letter to his younger sister, Gail Barnett, who lives in Maungaturoto, she stopped him part way through.

"Was her name Janet?" Gail asked.

Her memories flooded back. Many years earlier, when Gail's life was in turmoil and she'd just emerged from a tumultuous marriage and divorce, her mother had given her some advice.

"She'd said, 'You'll go off the rails, because I know'. She told me, as a newly single woman, to be careful with men, that I'd want to be close to someone for comfort. She was telling me that she knew what it was like."

In that conversation Dorothy said she'd had a baby she called Janet who she'd put up for adoption and that it was now "all forgotten". Dorothy had been engaged after a five-year romance.

The wedding was only weeks away when her fiancé called it off, saying he had another woman.

Devastated, humiliated and jilted, Dorothy fell for another man and, after a brief liaison, found herself pregnant. An older sister urged her to go to a home for unwed mothers and have her baby adopted. She was in no position to raise the child.

Shortly after, she met and married Alexander Tolmie and put her past firmly behind her.

Meanwhile, in England Margaret and Iain were on tenterhooks waiting for a reply from Keith.

He wrote back to confirm their search for family had hit gold. While Margaret planned a trip to New Zealand, Keith couldn't wait.

"He came to England to see me and apparently I'm the absolute image of my mother," says Margaret.

This summer she's visiting her New Zealand family with her daughter, Suzanne, Iain and his wife, Louise.

Clockwise from bottom left are Lois Dyas, Suzanne Smith, Gerald Barnett, Keith Tolmie, Iain Davey, Louise Davey, Gail Barnett and Margaret Miller.
Clockwise from bottom left are Lois Dyas, Suzanne Smith, Gerald Barnett, Keith Tolmie, Iain Davey, Louise Davey, Gail Barnett and Margaret Miller.

To mark the coming together of family, Gail's sister, Lois, is over from Australia, Keith is up from Auckland and the family are enjoying a gathering in Maungaturoto.

The most remarkable aspect, they say, is that Margaret really does look and act just like her mother, Dorothy.

"The similarities are too numerous to mention," says Gail. "It's looks, body, hair, hands, even identical handwriting, everything. It's not just bits and pieces; it's the whole package."

Even the names of the siblings' children are the same: Gail and Margaret have sons called Iain; Lois and Margaret have sons named Stephen.

"The way they walk is similar. It's uncanny," says Iain of the sisters, who even have owned identical cardigans.

And how is Margaret coping after having been seen off from England with a warm endorsement from her adopted brother who's always been protective of his younger sister?

"It's thrilling for me. I have two new sisters and two new brothers. I feel so happy now. I feel more complete."

And Gail: "It's instant family and it couldn't be more genuine. It was as if we'd met before."

"We found our blood relatives," says Iain. "And we did it all on the internet apart from one telephone call."

"And it's only taken us 75 years," adds Margaret. "I shall remember this forever."