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What do you do when you discover a family secret?

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Paul Report 9 Jan 2020 15:03

Family Secrets and what to do with them?

When we set off on our Family History journey and start delving into the past and the lives of our Ancestors, I’m sure that we all envisage some idyllic moments mixed in with some harder times, but are we really prepared, for when we actually find out something awful in our past?

I think that there is a little part of all of us, that likes the idea of a bit of a scoundrel or a loveable rogue in our past, it all adds to the colour of our tree and is actually also a part of the fabric that makes up you and me. A convict transported to Australia in the dim and distant past seems an exciting line of Research to explore, but of course although it’s part of our History, it’s far enough removed from our current stories that we feel distanced enough from it. A Skeleton in the cupboard all seems rather exciting doesn’t it?

But what if we discover something more recent, more painful, that affects some family members that are still alive today, how do we deal with a situation like that?

I don’t think that there is a definitive answer to the question, each and every situation will be different and personal to each and every one of us, our reactions and responses therefore will be different to each other.

We could of course be talking about a verbal testimony from a living relative regarding another living relative, it could be a paternity issue discovered from DNA testing or it could something revealed in a paper trail discovery, either way the consequences can and will be potentially life changing.

So what can we do to protect those involved and more importantly, what can we do to protect those that discover and hold the Family Secret? If you are the “keeper” of the secret, the burden of responsibility can consume you.

Questions you will continually ask yourself will include; should you reveal it and when? Is there ever a right time to do this, in many cases these secrets are taken to the Grave. Equally is there ever a wrong time to reveal? Only you will know the answer to those questions.

Taking this revelation to the next stage, how do we record this in our trees and should we even record this Family Secret? There is a school of thought that suggests we should leave this subject out of our tree completely, but there is a school of thought that suggests, that we should record all aspects within our tree, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Of course every case will be different and individual and personal to you. We could record the bare facts in the trees we have online, for example, and keep our personal notes, exactly that, for our eyes only, this would obviously include privatising that individual on your tree. What if you left them completely off your tree? There is also an issue then with fellow researchers who follow on from you. They might see a gap in your tree and immediately want to investigate it further. Are there likely to be newspaper reports revealing the story or even court cases and trials, depending on the circumstances of the event.

You might think you are the only person “in the know”, but could others already know the secret. How do you approach the subject without revealing the secret?

There are no real answers to any of the questions that I raise in this blog, all the blog will do is give you things to consider and further food for thought. Every case will be individual. We do however have a duty of care to protect the living and this should always be at the forefront of your mind when you are reaching your conclusions.

Sadly you can’t “Unknow something” and once you have opened Pandora’s Box it’s too late!

Shirley~I,m getting the hang of it

Shirley~I,m getting the hang of it Report 9 Jan 2020 15:36

We mind our own business is my feelings

What’s to know it isn’t a secret to those it affects

I don’t think it my business if it doesn’t affect me or my dearest .

If they wanted to make it known then they would have


Rambling Report 9 Jan 2020 18:50

Every case is different as you say.

Helping with someone else's tree as I have many times is different to my own ( which I don't make public in any case). In instances where I have found what I know someone might find distressing ( eg an elderly friend who is strongly religious would find the illegitimacy of their ancestor distressing so I wouldn't tell them, even though to me it is nothing out of the ordinary).

Like wise I didn't ask or tell a distant relative that there was what some would consider a 'skeleton' in the closet, it is enough for me to know. Having the bare bones of birth/marriage /death if they then want to look further into that person's past they can and will find out what I did. Not everyone wants to know everything, and not everyone wants to know the bad bits.


Paul Report 10 Jan 2020 19:11

There is always a burden attached to the person that keeps the secret as well


Christine Report 15 Jan 2020 22:29

If it were me I would keep the secret if it was likely to cause hurt or upset to any living person. However, I think it should be carefully recorded in a place where it could be found at some future date. There may come a day in the future when the truth could be really important.