That’s the question I ask every time I start working on someone’s tree. How much do you really want to know? So far, no one has ever told me to hold anything back, but I always ask because more often than not, things get a little too heavy.
When I submitted my first DNA test, I had no idea what was in store for me. My parents are my parents, and my grandparents are my grandparents, so it all seemed pretty normal. Then I started to learn more about DNA. The more I learned, the more I noticed that certain things seemed a bit off here and there. I couldn’t find any of my great-grandfather’s Swedish relatives. I had no matches connected to them. My mother had no matches connected to them. My grandmother and her sister? None. I contacted a few people with trees that contained that family to see if they were aware of anyone who might have tested. One of them quickly replied with a list of about seven people we were related closely enough for them to at least match my grandmother and her sister. We matched none of them. Thankfully my grandmother loves scandal, and her grandmother had a bit of a reputation, so she handled it well when I told her that our tree might technically look a little different than we thought.
It wasn’t just that I couldn’t find the Swedish family, there were also all of these matches who were pretty close that were connected to a German family. Not just any German family, but the German family who lived right next door to my great-grandfather’s parents’ house around the time he would’ve been conceived. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
This wouldn’t be the last time Sophie and others would surprise us with relatives that can only exist if the stories we’ve always believed, were untrue. Researching my complicated, surprising and sometimes “new” family has taught me so much about genetic genealogy, that I started using what I’d learned to help other people find birth parents. Throughout all of this I’ve met so many interesting people and I’ve made some amazing friends who are going to have a really, really hard time getting rid of me. Seriously. I’m not going anywhere Becki. Deal with it.
So, speaking of those interesting people and amazing friends, researching their trees and mine has shown me what I believe to be the most tragic part of family history. The saddest stories involve children dealing with the consequences of the choices the adults in their lives have made. Of course not everything is black and white. There are things that can happen that adults have no control over, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s not even just the initial choices, but also the choices made later to keep secrets that protect the person who made the choices in the first place, and hurt the children who had no control over any of it.
I’m sure it’s not easy for one to learn things about people in their family that are less than flattering, or things that change the stories they always believed to be true. Some people will do whatever it takes to protect themselves from dealing with the consequences of their own choices, even if it means forcing someone who had no say when it comes to the circumstances in which they were born to deal with them instead. Is one’s reputation really worth treating a child like something destructive that happened to the family? No matter how old that child is, they deserve better than that. No one can be blamed for the circumstances in which they were born. None of us have control over that.
So here is a question, what are the consequences? What would happen if the truth came out? Would it really be all that bad, or would it be a relief to finally say it out loud. What about when the one being protected has passed away? How can one justify protecting the reputation of someone who is no longer here and in turn punishing someone who is here and desperate for answers?
It’s late and I’m rambling, so I’ll end this with some unsolicited advice. If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself with a surprise Becki, embrace her, compare chins with her, ask her about her thoughts on animal husbandry. You know what? No, you probably shouldn’t do that.
Remember, she isn’t something that happened to you, this is something that is happening to her. In this story, she is the child dealing with the consequences of the choices the adults in her life have made. Rejecting a child who is trying to learn her story, is a tragedy.