No fairy-tale ending for Bishop's Stortford's mayor in her quest to find her birth family
The greatest satisfaction for East Herts Council's homelessness champion Cllr Norma Symonds is helping families stay together.
Piecing together the fragments of her own fractured family and finally identifying her father has taken decades – but there has been no fairy-tale ending for Bishop's Stortford's mayor.
But at the end of her journey, despite the disappointments, she has at last answered the questions which have haunted her since she was a little girl.
When she was eight, the woman she called her mother, Jean Blake, shattered her illusions.
Norma said: "I was in trouble in school and my mum said 'You know you're adopted? You know you're not ours?'"
Life at home in Glasgow had always been difficult and Norma's relationship with her father, Eric, was particularly fraught.
She instinctively knew her mother was telling the truth about her birth. "I believed it to be true and it made me feel awful," said Norma. "I think I rebelled even more then."
She had just reached her teens when she discovered the first clues to her true parentage: she came across a birth certificate. She learned she was born at Henderson Memorial Hospital in Caithness, in the far north of Scotland, and secretly wrote asking for more details, but no records were available.
As her relationship with her adoptive parents broke down further, Norma ran away and travelled to London, where she became a victim of all the dangers of life on the street.
When she discovered at 14 that she was pregnant, she made her way back to Scotland and was banished to a Church of Scotland home on the other side of Glasgow for unwed mothers.
Such was the stigma of her condition that her adoptive parents pretended she was staying with a great aunt in London. When Norma wrote to them, she had to send the letters to the capital first so they had the right postmark to hide the "shame".
Jean and Eric signed away Norma's son when he was born in 1962. "They just came and took him out of my arms. I couldn't sign any papers because I was under the age of consent."
She named the little boy Bruce and later recorded her personal details so he could find her when he became an adult.
He did so around five years ago and Norma was thrilled to learn his new parents kept the name she picked for him, after Robert the Bruce, and his life had been happy. She said: "He just wanted to know where he came from. He got a better family than I did."
Bruce's birth and the trauma of being forced to give him up reopened the wound of Norma's own adoption. "Having my own child made me want to find my own mum," she said.
Eventually, she managed to get hold of her original birth certificate. She learned her real name was Diane Davidson Miller and that she had been born to a woman called Mary Anderson Miller. From this, she was able to deduce that her father's surname was Davidson.
The trail went cold until her own children started arriving following her marriage to Paul Symonds, and the family settled in Furneux Pelham. First son John was born in 1971, daughter Fiona followed in 1973, second son Peter in 1976 and finally Lizzie in 1977.
"Lizzie was born with red hair, so that really got me wondering and I started trying in earnest to find my mother."
With help from a go-between from social services, Norma finally located her mother in Stirling – and when she travelled north and met her, she did indeed have red hair.
During that visit, she met Billy, who she initially believed was her older half-brother, although they were born just 18 months apart, and younger half-sister Eunice, who was the child of Mary's later marriage and who remains in contact with Norma.
Her mum refused to tell Norma anything about her real father, but she learned later that although her parents were supposed to be engaged, he already had a family with another woman.
Although the visit answered some vital questions, it was not the joyful reunion she might have hoped for after such a difficult childhood. Norma said: "I did not fit in either camp."
She later learned that her mother never mentioned her. "I don't blame her – it's too late to blame. It helped to meet her, we looked very alike."
Her mother would not publicly acknowledge Norma and told her: "If we go out, I won't be able to say you are my daughter."
Norma enlisted the help of an amateur genealogist to finally track down her father and the final piece of her family tree.
Detective work revealed that Norma and Billy were in fact full siblings who shared the same father: a man known both as Peter Manson and Peter Stanley Davidson, nicknamed Sonny.
Although both her brother and mother died before the discovery, Norma has stayed in touch with Billy's wife Suzanne and now has treasured pictures, including one of her pregnant mother with Billy on her hip.
Further digging via Facebook revealed two further half-siblings, Thomas and Georgina – her dad's children with his wife Irene.
She has spoken to Thomas and he gave her some snaps of her father, but both parties decided there was no point in further contact. "He doesn't want to know and that's fine with me," said Norma.
Her Christian faith has been central to coming to terms with the trauma of her childhood, the adoption of her own son and broken family ties that can never be mended.
Norma said simply: "My father was a cad."
Speaking publicly about such intensely personal and private pain has been a struggle, but as part of her work with some of the most marginalised people in Bishop's Stortford and East Herts, Norma wants to dispel the stigma many can face and to show she understands the stresses and strains imposed by society.
She admitted: "It's been traumatic, especially when I got the picture of Mum and my brother when she was pregnant just a few weeks before I was born. That was very painful, but I think it's all been worth it just to know where I come from. I'm just lucky to be alive."
More by this authorSinead Corr