How common are family secrets?

@Hoggirl–my mother kept a very similar secret. She was married before she married my Dad and had a child who died in infancy. After that child died–she and her first husband divorced. I never learned this until many years after my mother passed away. I only learned because I started doing research on Ancestry. I was able to check with an older cousin who remembered going to my mother’s first wedding. She also remembers that her mother (my mother’s sister) told her to never, ever mention it. I have no clue if my father knew about it.

My mother didn’t support me when I divorced my first husband–she told me I was being stupid. When I think back on that knowing my mother was once in a similar position and didn’t share with me, I am angry and sad. I think she should have told me.

I told both my daughters that I had been married before I married their father. Both of them were older teenagers.

I encouraged my friend to tell her teenagers about her first husband whom she divorced (no children from that marriage) earlier rather than later. She told them when they were teens as well.

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I don’t look like anyone in my immediate family. Short, blond, and with straight as straw hair (everyone else has/had brown hair with lovely curls and is/was tall). I was very relieved when baby kid did her 23andme testing and found a relative on my dad’s side living In England. :slight_smile:

Not exactly related to family secrets, but I recently discovered that one place near where my great grandfather used to live has a very dark history. Bone chilling. I’m positive everyone living there knew what was going on. They were just not talking about it.

This has me thinking. My husband was married and divorced long before I met him. I never met his first wife and they had no children. I’m not sure my children know. It’s not that we have kept it secret but rather it has just never come up. I’ll have to ask my daughter if she knows.

As for real secrets, my mom was once contacted by someone who claimed to be her sibling. This person claimed that my grandfather had had two wives simultaneously and had two separate families. My mom never responded to this person because she didn’t want to know so we never found out anything more about it.


We have lots of unexplained stories, like my mother was raised by her aunt and family, but her bio mother took mother’s younger siblings and moved out of state. We don’t know why.

I have a daughter who was receiving speech therapy in middle school. The school nurse called me to fill in some info on the IEP and kept asking me questions like ‘When did she start speaking’ and I’d answer “I don’t know, she was adopted at 2 1/2.” And then she’d ask me another question like “Did she babble as a baby?” and I’d say “I don’t know, she was talking when I met her at 2 1/2. She’s adopted.” Finally she asked “Does she know she’s adopted?” I didn’t really get the question so I said “She’s 11.” Well, yes, she knew that but some people don’t tell the child they are adopted. I said “Well she’s Chinese.” Yes, she says, but some people don’t tell kids they are adopted. “I’m not Chinese.” Well, yes, she says, but some don’t tell. I said “She’s not stupid. Yes, she knows she’s adopted. She knows she was born in China.”

My daughter’s response? “Do you see what I’m dealing with, Mom?”

And really, if I were keeping her adoption a secret do you think I’d be putting it on school forms and talking to a stranger about it? I’m a better secret keeper than that.


An aunt had a baby out of wedlock and gave the baby up for adoption. I wasn’t told until I was in my late 20s. I never understood what the big scandal was all about.

I have a friend whose father was a convicted child molester. Her father died before she got married & also before she had any children. She doesn’t plan to tell her kids anything about the man. Everyone close to her and her kids are respecting her wishes on this. He truly was a despicable person and the world is a better place without him in it. It only seems fitting that his memory be pretty much wiped from the face of the earth.


When my MIL was in her last months & moved to a care home, my husband was going through some of her very old personal stuff as we emptied their house. He found some paperwork and said, “wow, my mom was married another time” and I said, “right, when she was a teenager and it was annulled”
Nope, he did not know about the teen marriage and annulment (she must have told me at some point) and he found another marriage no one knew about. I was visiting his Mom and name dropped the guy’s name and I thought she was going to stand up out of her wheelchair and commit violence. She was mad that anyone knew, but she kept photos and paperwork. Weird.

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Some secrets are just silly.

I have an aunt who is quite close in age to me (catholic :grin:). She and her husband went through a rough patch and divorced. But got back together and remarried. Their children were teenagers when they remarried.

But apparently it was a secret that they divorced and remarried. I made a comment at some point and my aunt told me that they don’t ever talk about it and that they don’t tell people.

Thought that was odd.

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My cousin got pregnant on her senior trip. She didn’t tell her parents until she was in labor, and the baby was given up for adoption. It was a deep, dark secret that my uncle eventually told my mom. When she had dementia, she told two of my siblings & me. We would never tell anyone in the family that we know. We have no idea whether my cousin’s H & kids know, and it’s not our secret to share. But I have always felt sorry for the family - it’s a burdensome secret, and I wish that they never felt the need to keep it a secret.


My paternal grandmother died in the 1940’s when she was in her mid-thirties. We barely knew her name–she left my grandfather with 4 small children who were temporarily placed in an orphanage while their widowed dad got his life in order.

Very little has been said about her—not quite a secret, but mostly because I think her early death was so painful for all involved.

NOW, it turns out she may have died of MS. If so, that’s an important part of my (and my children’s) medical history that I would really like to verify. I would probably have to find her death certificate. Through genealogical research I’ve been able to find out that we had both her first name and maiden name wrong, which made research difficult.

My mother also told me several things I’d never heard before as she started her deep decline into dementia. I’m sure it was at the point where she had mostly only long term memories. I really enjoyed those conversations as she was very open and shared many details, which was unlike her.

On the other side of the family, I had an aunt who spent time in a psychiatric facility two or three times. We knew she was there, but no one would talk about why. I suspect now that she must have been suicidal because mental health problems were definitely stigmatized and It had to have been something very serious for her to be there. We normally saw her quite often (every week) and she didn’t suffer from anything obvious.

My brothers claimed to have never been told certain things but I was there when these things were discussed in their presence. They just didn’t pay attention. Years later I was asked how I already knew, especially since I’m a decade younger. The things they thought had been deliberately kept secret just weren’t talked about often, and you had to have paid attention to the old folks when they talked.

There were other things involving various relatives that my mother talked about, including health problems. As an adult I realized she would take a supposition and turn it into a fact in her mind. She also outright lied about things that she thought others might find scandalous (such as her first grandchild being born before the parents married), and did it so often that she became convinced what she said was the truth. As a result, I never knew when something she said was true or not and I don’t want to pass along possible untruths.

There are things in my past that I have not shared with my kids. If one of them encountered a problem that might be helped by a frank discussion of my experiences, I would do so. Otherwise, it feels as if I’d be burdening them.

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A few years ago, I got into researching my family history on and uncovered some pretty dark chapters. Two of my grandfather’s sisters committed suicide, one in the 1930’s and one in the 1950’s. I found the death certificate for one of them and a newspaper article about the other. My grandmother’s brother also committed suicide in the 1930’s by jumping in front of a train - I found an old newspaper article about it. I asked my mom about what happened to her aunts and uncle. She said she was aware of what happened (two of the deaths occurred before she was born), but that it just wasn’t discussed in her family. I guess people saw suicide as a shameful thing back then.

Reading these stories/secrets makes me think that even though we often say “it’s 2022…somethings never change…” - well in fact, it IS a change that maybe we don’t have to “hide” things like divorce, unplanned pregnancy, etc. We learned that lightening doesn’t strike those that experience a bad choice or hardship.

I also wonder how many of these “secrets” were due to a fear of going against the church/religion. IMO, religion played/ruled more of people’s lives a couple generations ago.


Definitely! The fact that a couple of my aunts were pregnant before marriage was very hush-hush, and I’m sure that the fact that my mom’s gay cousin pretended to be straight even though everyone knew he wasn’t was tied to religion. Our generation views things differently, for the most part.


I’ve gotten more than I bargained for from my research on Ancestry, even without doing the DNA part. One grandparent, it turns out, had a previous marriage that ended colorfully enough to spawn a newspaper article. (I actually connected with the grandchildren of the first spouse, who hadn’t known about this either!) Another grandparent was listed, at the age of 10, as the family contact for their incarcerated father, who spent a few years in Sing Sing for a financial crime. Apparently this great-grandparent’s spouse was none-too-pleased and not in the mood to be listed as the contact, but that’s a lot to put on a 10y/o! Nobody in my parents’ generation ever knew about any of this. I don’t think that DNA testing would yield any further surprises, but I guess one never knows!

Somehow, I’ve never been tempted to do I know enough of our relatives and a satisfied with that.

Thought of this thread last night. My uncle was visiting from out of town, and recently came into a collection of old photos and paperwork his sister had. He brought all of it with him to show my father. My kids and I went over yesterday to celebrate my mother’s birthday, so my uncle pulled it all out. Among the stuff was my great-grandfather’s naturalization papers. My son was looking at them and exclaims, “it says he was divorced!” Huh, this was news to me! My great-grandmother had died after child birth. My grandmother was the oldest of five girls, and I knew she dropped out of school after 8th grade to care for her younger sisters. So what was this divorce? Well, apparently my great-grandfather got married after his first wife died, looking for someone more as a mother for his kids, but apparently she was not interested in that role. It was after this marriage, which must have been very short, that my grandmother had to drop out of school. This was the first time I’d ever even heard there was a brief marriage.

I also forgot there has always been some sort of speculation of nefarious goings-on with my great grandfather. He was an accomplished shoe maker in Cleveland, but at one point he suddenly moved the family to New Orleans, where they lived for a few years before returning to Cleveland. We’d always been told it was to escape the Mafia, but my grandmother and her sisters never talked about it so we will never know the truth.

One thing I learned last night, not a secret but something funny. There was a news article with a photo of my great grandfather about winning an oyster eating contest. From the sounds of the article, it was a popular annual event in Cleveland. An interesting tidbit about a guy who has always been a bit of a mystery to his descendants! (He also was apparently an alcoholic and a bit of a tyrant with his daughters, so they never really talked much about him).


Family friend did the 23 and me. Clicked the ‘allow connected people to contact me’ (or some such option). She did the tests for her and her hubby.

Well, low and behold, there is a half brother that popped up. So friends FIL was sowing some oats. As her hubby said - his mom (married to oat sower) was an expert in living life in a state of intentional denial.

Two of the brothers are very upset that friend did this and want nothing to do with this newly found half sibling. All the sibs agreed not to say anything to mom and dad. Dad was in pretty bad health and died not too long after this discovery. Mom most likely knows…but no one is going to hold a Kaffe Klatsch to discuss this subject.

Newer infertility techniques are leading to family secrets coming out, with DNA testing. Use of donor sperm or donor egg, without telling the child, can lead to some startling discoveries, now even that the woman who birthed a person may not be their genetic mother.