How school biology lesson sparked adopted US girl's hunt to find her Belfast dad
A school biology lesson is rarely life-changing.
But for one US student – and the father she never knew – a class on genetics changed their lives for ever.
Belfast dad Emmanuel Cullen has spoken of his astonishment after a daughter he didn't know existed tracked him down after discovering she was adopted.
Courtney Hardy from Sacramento, USA, was 15 when she discovered she was adopted during a lesson at school.
Speaking from the US, the 27-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph she was learning about genetics when the first clue that she was adopted was raised.
"We were learning about dominant and recessive traits. My teacher was using eye colour as an example of how two blue-eyed parents have almost a 0% chance of having a brown-eyed child," she said.
"That was my situation, both of my parents had blue eyes and mine are brown. I went home from school that day and talked to them about it and my parents told me I was actually adopted."
It wasn't for another seven years that Courtney decided to try and contact her birth family.
After various searches, including Facebook, she tracked down her mother, Wende Moten from San Diego, and was introduced to a whole family she'd never known.
The more she learned about her mum's side of the family, the more she learned about her Belfast-born father Emmanuel Cullen.
Mr Cullen told the Belfast Telegraph of the astonishing moment he was told about the then 24-year-old daughter he never knew existed.
"I was blown away. Her mother got in touch with me and said 'Are you sitting down, because I have a bombshell for you'.
"I thought something was wrong with my son – who is my daughter's full brother – but she said "you also have a daughter".
"I was going through all kinds of emotions. I was ecstatic, as I've always wanted a daughter."
Until then Courtney, now an account executive at FOX 40 news, had lived with her adoptive parents Ken and Nancy Hardy.
They knew her birth mother's name and told her that the decision for her to be given up for adoption was made a few weeks before she was born.
Courtney first met her birth father and two step-brothers, Ryan and Tony, in August 2011, after arranging to travel to Belfast to meet them. "I remember walking up to them and they couldn't believe how much I resembled them," she said. "When I left, my family told me if home ever didn't feel right, I always had a home in Belfast."
Emmanuel described their first meeting.
"It was so emotional, as soon as I saw her it was instant," he added. "We just hugged each other and she was welcomed with open arms."
"She's a diamond. She did it all herself."
Despite finding her birth parents, Courtney has not forgotten her adopted parents.
She said: "To have found my birth parents, it's great. But my parents will always be my parents, no matter what. I was very lucky to grow up with two very loving, caring and dedicated parents. They were at every basketball game, soccer game, school play, graduation. I was just always curious about who my biological family was and what it would be like to have siblings since I grew up an only child.
"I feel like now I have the best of both worlds and I am really happy that I have a relationship with all my family.
"I feel like this whole process has made my relationship with my parents even stronger. They've been supportive of me every step of the way," said Courtney.
Mr Cullen paid tribute to her parents. "She had a very good upbringing, her parents are just great people. I thanked them for the brilliant job they had done. I couldn't ask for anything better."
He added: "I just can't wait until she comes back again."
Courtney Hardy from California, USA, was aged 15 when she discovered she was adopted during a biology lesson on genetics. Her teacher used eye colour as an example of how two blue-eyed parents have almost a 0% chance of having a brown-eyed child. Her parents, Ken and Nancy Hardy (right), both had blue eyes and hers were brown. They told her she was adopted and almost seven years later she searched for her birth parents on Facebook.