I’ve taught dozens of life story writing and family history writing courses and workshops, and in every one, someone has announced that in doing the research, even superficial research, into their background, they’ve stumbled on at least one family secret.
Can you guess the most frequently concealed or distorted information?
It’s that a father or grandfather had two families, usually, but not always, unknown to one another. Sometimes the families resided fairly far from one another. More often than you’d think, the families lived within walking distance of one another. The mothers and even neighbors might have known about the other family, but the children went to school together, unaware that some of their classmates were half-siblings.
Probably the second most common secret students have discovered has to do with their family’s religion or ethnicity. To assimilate into American culture, some immigrants suppressed their Jewish heritage. Other immigrants told their children that they were of a nationality different from their real one, which might have been seen as undesirable. And even within this country, many African Americans have “passed” for white. They still do.
The third most common secret I’ve come across among my students has to do with money. In one case, after a father died, $60,000 was accidentally found in a curtain rod.
Secrets in My Own Family
In my family, information related to money on my mother’s side of the family was vigorously guarded. After my mother died, my brother and I went looking for the inheritance due my siblings and me.
But imagine my shock when I discovered things about my father’s family and money that had been concealed from me all my life.
How Are You Affected by Such Discoveries?
When you discover a closely held family secret, what is its impact on your view of your family? Does it affect your idea of yourself?
Please leave comment if you’ve ever come across information that conflicted with what your family had told you about themselves and you.
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