Do You Have Any Family Secrets You Haven’t Told Your Children?

My mother told my father, before they married, that her father had died of syphilis.

View of Nogales, Arizona/Sonora from Arizona. ...

Nogales, Arizona

My father told my mother his mother had committed suicide.

Neither wanted the other to enter the marriage without full knowledge of the families they were marrying into, especially, for instance, if mental illness could be inherited.

But, my brothers and I were in our 40s before we knew these family secrets.

How Do You Discover Family Secrets?

Although I never felt any part of the house was off-limits, except my parents’ bedroom, I never found any letters or photos that might have prompted me to ask questions about my grandparents.

Dead when each of my parents were children, the lost partners were not mentioned again to their children by the surviving parents. Or, to us when we were growing up.

Of course not. They each died under embarrassing circumstances.

I filled in some of the missing pieces from my mother’s family when my uncle died.

My uncle had been the family historian, had traveled to Ireland to find our old family farmhouse, had meticulously documented generations of family.

Sitting with my cousins after his death, my aunt mentioned that my uncle had never met his father.

“A family friend once stopped him on the street,” she said.

‘See that man across the street? That’s your father.’”

That was the only time he saw him.

I found out later the deeper story. My grandfather had had an affair while my grandmother was pregnant with my uncle. My mother was two years old.

My grandmother took the family from Nogales, Arizona to her family’s home in Kansas.

Her own father had been absent some nine years while she was growing up.

Her mother was unsympathetic. Her attitude? “Your bed.”

My grandmother knew that imminent widowhood, after her husband’s inevitable long illness (no penicillin in those days) would make it difficult to raise two young children.

She had a college degree, as did her mother. She had a profession. She was a geography teacher and had been an elementary school principal.


Who Helped Her?

So, she went to Michigan to ask for help from her husband’s family. They all turned her down.

Except. Her mother-in-law.

Disgusted with the way the rest of the family had treated her daughter-in-law, she took over.

“This is what’s going to happen.

“I am going to buy you a house. I am going to live in it and take care of my grandchildren while you go back to work.

“My son is going to live in a room in the backyard for as long as he has.”

And, that is what happened.

Suddenly, Lots of Things Made Sense

I didn’t even know this story when I went to college in Michigan.

My mother had never told me about my Michigan relatives.

In fact, a friend of one of my cousins called me when he got to school at Michigan State, when I was a Freshman there and said, “Would you like to meet some of your cousins here in Michigan?”

“I don’t have any cousins in Michigan,” I told him.

He took me home to meet my cousins.

When I finally heard the story of my grandfather and grandmother, it made sense that my mother, two when all this happened, had never told me.

But, my uncle’s genealogy research turned it up. He tracked down the Michigan and Ohio relatives. And, my aunt finally filled me in on the details.

Is there a family story that you’ve never told your children?

Is there a story you learned as an adult that explained a lot in your family?

Will you still remember it by the time your grandchildren are old enough to tell?

To you and the stories you can tell.

Click here to order this blog on your Kindle for more ideas about how to tell your stories to your children and grandchildren.

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers