Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Secrets.... Every Family Has Them....

When I began researching genealogy, I quickly found that in addition to keeping track of many family facts, another responsibility came along – the keeping of secrets – Yes… secrets, which even the dullest appearing family will have. As children, we love to be privy to secrets (and to tell them!) – But as adults, the novelty of a secret quickly wears thin. To bear the load of a deep family secret can become a very heavy burden – and I know there are families with far worse secrets than mine!

It does seem odd how some family members will disclose some little tidbit – often off the cuff – [the secret out of wedlock pregnancy and baby given up for adoption is, I’m sure, a common family ‘secret’ – my own family having a couple of those.] Often it is an elderly relative who has this information and maybe because so many people involved are now deceased – or just because so much time has gone by – but this relative feels comfortable disclosing the bombshell -- often times in a casual, matter of fact kind of way. Also, I think they realize that sometimes someone needs to know – and that there can be great comfort in telling a long held secret.
Have you found long buried secrets in your research? Do you keep these secrets yourself? I blabbed a family secret once, years ago, and later regretted it – though I do realize that secrets are usually far more painful than the truth. But, I also feel that someone else’s secret isn’t mine to tell! This is especially sensitive when the parties involved are still living.....

Other secrets can include things that were considered shameful “back in the day” – like suicide. I’m sure some of us have received a death certificate and been surprised to see the cause of death contradicts what we may have always been told. Even today, mental illness carries an unfair stigma, but years ago it was rarely talked about even if there wasn’t suicide – institutionalizations were often shameful as well.
Years ago, while talking with an elderly relative about the children of a deceased Aunt, she mentioned the middle child, Mary Ellen, being “an invalid child” – who died as a baby in the 1930s. When I spoke to my own Great-Aunt about this cousin, she also said that the child was very ill and remembered her Dad saying his baby niece had died. But no one could seem to tell me when this child died or where she was buried. Imagine my complete shock, some years later, when I found that Mary Ellen did not die as a baby, but instead lived to the age of 48, dying in 1984, in a State Institution. Did Mary Ellen’s parents tell people that she had died, or did people just assume she must have died young, since a disabled child was not something easily talked of in the 1930s & 1940s.

A revered Aunt (now deceased_ gave a child up for adoption over 80 years ago – I would love to find this child or its descendants – whether this story qualifies as a secret, I’m not sure – but it certainly was never talked about! And that fact makes me hesitate to ask the few remaining older relatives in our family, if they might know something.... I don't want them to be angry at me for "tarnishing" our dear Aunt's memory or find it distasteful that I am looking to open such a private can of worms.... If only I had started my search years ago, for now, this long lost child would be 85 years old... and could very well be deceased....
Since most of the ‘family secrets’ I have stumbled upon, remain a secret today, I’m not really able to give any more specific examples – but since I know you have your own – I don’t really need to....
So what about your family secrets – have you kept them?
How have they affected your research?
Is there more value in keeping them – or allowing truth?
Does the "statute of limitations" ever run out on a secret?

I suspect there will be fewer secrets for future generations – as many of the things taboo in society years ago, are no longer taboo today – children born to single Mothers – divorce – and racial background, among other things – are no longer things to be shameful of – so the need for secrets is eliminated.
So What say You on the matter?

1 comment:

  1. I blab ours, lol. We thought we had a boring family so finding these secrets make our history exciting. Also, affected parties are mostly no longer here. One, an illegitimate half sibling of my grandmother's - that she grew up with - and conveniently omitted from her genealogy information...along with the fact her father in law was a notorious outlaw, with suspicions of having done business with Butch Cassidy. And then there is my cousin no one knew about (including her dad) that found me through DNA...

    I have one aunt not thrilled about her 'criminal' grandpa, but otherwise the family seems intrigued to learn the family 'secrets'.