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Scarlett

Genealogy and very old secrets

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I am working on my son’s genealogy.  There is a big mystery with his paternal grandmother.  The year she was born...when she was 3 months old, she showed up in a census as ‘adopted daughter’ of the two parents that raised her.  Also in that house at the time, was a mystery woman....named as a cousin to the head of house.  We have long suspected she was/ is the bio mom to my sons grandmother.  

I think I have found this woman....well....her trail....she died in 1974.  Biut along with finding her I think I found a child of hers...which would be a half sister to my sons grandmother....my xMIL....I have her FB page, her address, her land line phone number.....I am probably going to call her tomorrow.  

I have to keep in mind what I know and what I don’t know.  

So how do I go about calling an 84 year old woman and discussing this?

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Someone contacted an 84 year old woman I know with a connection found through genealogy. It did not go well. I'm not sure she understood exactly what was going on. She refused contact and ranted for weeks about the nerve of that woman. Everyone who knows her avoids saying anything that might remind her of it because it sets her off.

That probably was not at all useful, but I guess the moral is to be prepared to not be believed or welcome.

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9 minutes ago, Danae said:

Someone contacted an 84 year old woman I know with a connection found through genealogy. It did not go well. I'm not sure she understood exactly what was going on. She refused contact and ranted for weeks about the nerve of that woman. Everyone who knows her avoids saying anything that might remind her of it because it sets her off.

That probably was not at all useful, but I guess the moral is to be prepared to not be believed or welcome.

Why was she upset?

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Is your son's grandmother still alive?  If so, I definitely would not call the woman to discuss this.  If the grandmother (half sister) wanted to contact her, or even if the adult grandson wanted to try to contact her as a possible half-great-aunt, that would be one thing.  However, I think it would be odd for an 84-year old to be contacted by a non-family member about this. 

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Just now, Bootsie said:

Is your son's grandmother still alive?  If so, I definitely would not call the woman to discuss this.  If the grandmother (half sister) wanted to contact her, or even if the adult grandson wanted to try to contact her as a possible half-great-aunt, that would be one thing.  However, I think it would be odd for an 84-year old to be contacted by a non-family member about this. 

Non family member? I was her DIL for 26 years. My xh and ds both have given their approval of this search.  

Yes she is alive.  But it is not just her history.  It is my sons too. And my xh....and he is not opposed to this effort.  

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I wouldn’t call her. I think many elderly people might find such a call upsetting and confusing coming completely out of the blue. It would probably be best if her half sister contacted her first via email or a letter. And then let her choose if she wants contact from any other family members.

Edited by Frances
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Just now, Frances said:

I wouldn’t call her. I think many elderly people might find such a call upsetting and confusing coming completely out of the blue. It would probably be best if her half sister contacted her first via email or a letter.

Her half sister is 89 years old.  She has no idea about email.  And she is too traumatized about all of it to initiate anything.  For most of her life she would not admit she was adopted.  

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Just now, Scarlett said:

Her half sister is 89 years old.  She has no idea about email.  And she is too traumatized about all of it to initiate anything.  For most of her life she would not admit she was adopted.  

Well perhaps the woman you want to call feels similarly about her background and a call would be very traumatizing for her. I would definitely not call her. If you feel you must contact her, I would write a letter or email.

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What would be the purpose in contacting this woman?   I think I'd respect the MIL's feelings and let sleeping dogs lie. I know you said it's your son's history... but he's far removed from the life and living of those events. It would only be a story for him; it could potentially be more to the elderly woman. 

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I know people see these things differently.....I feel strongly that this 90 year secret has caused mostly grief.  I am going to call her.  It is the only way I will feel confident I am speaking to the the right person.  I guess I just wanted someone to have an idea of how to speak to an 84 year old woman about an old secret.

 

i just realized my 73 year old mother called an 84 year old woman and ask her a few questions.......is this man your father?i think he might be my father too.  The woman said ,  ‘ well hon I wouldn’t doubt it, he was a real rounder....’,  my mom ask her if she would take. A dna test to confirm.....sure she said.  

So not all 84 year old women would freak. 

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I don’t understand why this is so important to you. I know you want to solve this mystery, but I can’t figure out what possible benefit you could derive from it. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but I think you should leave that poor woman alone. 

What are you hoping to accomplish by talking with her? I’m really trying to see this through your eyes, but I keep thinking of how upsetting it could be for the woman to have to dredge up what may be painful memories for her. Also, what if she isn’t mentally or psychologically up to talking to a total stranger about her distant past? If you are determined to do this, does she have any children you could contact first?

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2 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

I know people see these things differently.....I feel strongly that this 90 year secret has caused mostly grief.  I am going to call her.  It is the only way I will feel confident I am speaking to the the right person.  I guess I just wanted someone to have an idea of how to speak to an 84 year old woman about an old secret.

 

i just realized my 73 year old mother called an 84 year old woman and ask her a few questions.......is this man your father?i think he might be my father too.  The woman said ,  ‘ well hon I wouldn’t doubt it, he was a real rounder....’,  my mom ask her if she would take. A dna test to confirm.....sure she said.  

So not all 84 year old women would freak. 

Yes, but some might, and what right do you have to potentially cause her pain and grief by calling her out of the blue? You said yourself it is traumatizing to your ex MIL. Why do you want to risk upsetting another person? To what end? Why not write and leave it up to her if she wants to call you or tear up the letter and never think about it again. 

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18 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Non family member? I was her DIL for 26 years. My xh and ds both have given their approval of this search.  

Yes she is alive.  But it is not just her history.  It is my sons too. And my xh....and he is not opposed to this effort.  

Unless I misunderstood who is who in your scenario, you weren't the DIL of the woman that you are talking about contacting are you?  It sounded to me as if you were the DIL of someone who might be a half-sister of an 84-year old woman (who might not even know about the situation),  If your son has a particular interest in the history, I would leave it to him to find out.   

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14 minutes ago, alisoncooks said:

What would be the purpose in contacting this woman?   I think I'd respect the MIL's feelings and let sleeping dogs lie. I know you said it's your son's history... but he's far removed from the life and living of those events. It would only be a story for him; it could potentially be more to the elderly woman. 

The purpose?  The purpose is to track down who ones ancesters are. My son has no idea who his great grandmother is....and an idea only of who the grandfather is. 

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2 minutes ago, Catwoman said:

I don’t understand why this is so important to you. I know you want to solve this mystery, but I can’t figure out what possible benefit you could derive from it. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but I think you should leave that poor woman alone. 

What are you hoping to accomplish by talking with her? I’m really trying to see this through your eyes, but I keep thinking of how upsetting it could be for the woman to have to dredge up what may be painful memories for her. Also, what if she isn’t mentally or psychologically up to talking to a total stranger about her distant past? If you are determined to do this, does she have any children you could contact first?

Painful memories? i have no idea it would be a painful memory.  Actually it wouldn’t be a memory at all, since she was born almost 5 years after my MIL.  

I think I can tell pretty quickly if she is not mentally up to discussing her mother. 

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5 minutes ago, Bootsie said:

Unless I misunderstood who is who in your scenario, you weren't the DIL of the woman that you are talking about contacting are you?  It sounded to me as if you were the DIL of someone who might be a half-sister of an 84-year old woman (who might not even know about the situation),  If your son has a particular interest in the history, I would leave it to him to find out.   

What is the difference if it is my son or me who contacts her? It is just genealogy.  It isn’t a judgment on her life since obviously she can’t be held responsible for what her mother may or may not have done 90 years earlier.  

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Just now, Scarlett said:

Painful memories? i have no idea it would be a painful memory.  Actually it wouldn’t be a memory at all, since she was born almost 5 years after my MIL.  

I think I can tell pretty quickly if she is not mentally up to discussing her mother. 

You know nothing about what she may or may not know or feel or think about her parents and a potential half sister or her childhood or anything else. You have no idea if this call will be welcomed, traumatizing, upsetting, or anything else. And honestly, it seems like you just don’t care. You want to know what you want to know and that’s all that matters. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I just don’t get your urgency in this matter.

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Just now, Scarlett said:

Painful memories? i have no idea it would be a painful memory.  Actually it wouldn’t be a memory at all, since she was born almost 5 years after my MIL.  

I think I can tell pretty quickly if she is not mentally up to discussing her mother. 

 

But I still don’t know why you are insisting on talking to her. Seriously, what’s the point? Why are you so determined to solve a 90yo mystery? It has no bearing whatsoever on your son’s life. All you’re doing is trying to satisfy your own curiosity. 

Sometimes secrets are secrets for good reason, and the people involved have no interest in revealing the truth, particularly to a total stranger who they don’t want meddling in their lives for no good reason.

I’m sorry if i sound mean, but it seems like you are doing this for purely selfish reasons and there is no benefit at all for that poor 84yo woman.

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Just now, Frances said:

You know nothing about what she may or may not know or feel or think about her parents and a potential half sister or her childhood or anything else. You have no idea if this call will be welcomed, traumatizing, upsetting, or anything else. And honestly, it seems like you just don’t care. You want to know what you want to know and that’s all that matters. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I just don’t get your urgency in this matter.

Well the urgency is she is 84.  With no children that I can find. 

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25 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Her half sister is 89 years old.  She has no idea about email.  And she is too traumatized about all of it to initiate anything.  For most of her life she would not admit she was adopted.  

If you know that your former MIL is traumatized by it, why would you not just drop the discussion?  I cannot see that it is helpful to her.  If it is traumatic to her, it seems as if it could be traumatic to the woman you want to contact, also.  I do not see that it is likely to positively impact anyone's life.  It may be interesting to your son to know who is biological greatgrandaparents (who are long deceased) were, but in the big scheme of things, it will not change his life.  

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1 minute ago, Scarlett said:

What is the difference if it is my son or me who contacts her? It is just genealogy.  It isn’t a judgment on her life since obviously she can’t be held responsible for what her mother may or may not have done 90 years earlier.  

 

But most people don’t care about your quest to learn everything about your son’s genealogy. They probably rightfully feel that their personal secrets are none of your business.

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We have some unknown things in our family tree. My dad is 84, and if someone called him up to ask questions or offer information, he would probably be okay with it. In fact, he did give information to someone doing genealogy twenty or so years ago, and he learned some interesting things in return.

With that said, I think many or most people of that generation were taught not to discuss out of wedlock births and considered it shameful. There is a greater chance that she will not want to talk about it. It is entirely possible that she knows nothing (she was born five years later and may never have been told). And you are guessing at a lot of connections.

So I think it's risky and that you might offend her.

If you are intent on calling, I would not start by presenting any of the information you mentioned in your OP. I would just say that her name came up as you were researching your family tree and ask if she would mind talking with you and answering a few questions. If she says no, drop it.

If she says yes, I would not tell her that you think she is the sister of your MIL. I would say that MIL and her parents are in your family tree and see if she recognizes the name or has any information about the connection. Keep it vague. You can also tell her the names of the great-grandparents and the cousin who lived with them and ask if she is any relation to any of them.

If she says no, I would not explain what you think the connection is. Give her time to think; say that she is welcome to contact you at any time, if she thinks of anything she would like to talk about with you, and give her your contact information.

I suspect she would either know nothing, or, if she knows, will not want to talk about it.

I have grandparents (on both sides) whose parentage is unknown, and the people who did know died without telling. Although it would be interesting for me to solve those little mysteries, I don't expect to, and it's okay.

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Just now, Scarlett said:

What is the difference if it is my son or me who contacts her? It is just genealogy.  It isn’t a judgment on her life since obviously she can’t be held responsible for what her mother may or may not have done 90 years earlier.  

Still, there might be shame attached to this for her (not that there should be); think of the generation. 

She is not your relative. Let your son handle it if he wants to. You are curious, understandably, but I don't think it is your story to find out. 

If you must, write a letter. Give her time to consider and react. That would be the kinder approach. 

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1 minute ago, Catwoman said:

 

But I still don’t know why you are insisting on talking to her. Seriously, what’s the point? Why are you so determined to solve a 90yo mystery? It has no bearing whatsoever on your son’s life. All you’re doing is trying to satisfy your own curiosity. 

Sometimes secrets are secrets for good reason, and the people involved have no interest in revealing the truth, particularly to a total stranger who they don’t want meddling in their lives for no good reason.

I’m sorry if i sound mean, but it seems like you are doing this for purely selfish reasons and there is no benefit at all for that poor 84yo woman.

Solving a 90 year old mystery isn’t a good reason? Hmm.  It is to me.  And why do you assume the people have no interest on revealing the truth.   I have no way of knowing if they have any idea of HOW to solve this mystery.  Maybe it will be welcomed. 

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1 minute ago, Scarlett said:

Well the urgency is she is 84.  With no children that I can find. 

And you’re afraid she will die before she can respond to a letter or email? Are you not concerned at all about upsetting or traumatizing her with a phone call?

And honestly, so what if your son never finds out who is great grandparents are? I don’t know anything about most of mine, and it hasn’t affected my life at all.

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1 minute ago, Bootsie said:

If you know that your former MIL is traumatized by it, why would you not just drop the discussion?  I cannot see that it is helpful to her.  If it is traumatic to her, it seems as if it could be traumatic to the woman you want to contact, also.  I do not see that it is likely to positively impact anyone's life.  It may be interesting to your son to know who is biological greatgrandaparents (who are long deceased) were, but in the big scheme of things, it will not change his life.  

 

I agree. And realistically, Scarlett’s son probably won’t even care unless there ends up being some scandalous story that he can tell his friends. Otherwise, why would any of this matter to him at all?

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Has your son taken a DNA test? Maybe start there--or have his dad take the test if willing--and see what it turns up.

I'm not sure calling this woman when you know so little is either wise or kind. I would consider writing a letter a better option. I think there is a good chance if her mother was your son's great grandmother that she knows nothing about it.

There are things I have learned through genealogy research about my grandmother's grandmother that I haven't shared with grandma because I know it would be upsetting to her.

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3 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

What is the difference if it is my son or me who contacts her? It is just genealogy.  It isn’t a judgment on her life since obviously she can’t be held responsible for what her mother may or may not have done 90 years earlier.  

I think there is a big difference, in that it is your son's genealogy, not your genealogy.  If you son is interested in his genealogy, he could decide whether it is worth contacting the person (given that the person's reaction is uncertain.).  Does your son really care and want to know about this enough to contact the other person (knowing that his grandmother IS traumatized by this)?  Or, are you the one who really wants to know?  

I am not saying that it is a judgment on anyone's life; i just think many people would find it an intrusion on their privacy.  

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4 minutes ago, Storygirl said:

We have some unknown things in our family tree. My dad is 84, and if someone called him up to ask questions or offer information, he would probably be okay with it. In fact, he did give information to someone doing genealogy twenty or so years ago, and he learned some interesting things in return.

With that said, I think many or most people of that generation were taught not to discuss out of wedlock births and considered it shameful. There is a greater chance that she will not want to talk about it. It is entirely possible that she knows nothing (she was born five years later and may never have been told). And you are guessing at a lot of connections.

So I think it's risky and that you might offend her.

If you are intent on calling, I would not start by presenting any of the information you mentioned in your OP. I would just say that her name came up as you were researching your family tree and ask if she would mind talking with you and answering a few questions. If she says no, drop it.

If she says yes, I would not tell her that you think she is the sister of your MIL. I would say that MIL and her parents are in your family tree and see if she recognizes the name or has any information about the connection. Keep it vague. You can also tell her the names of the great-grandparents and the cousin who lived with them and ask if she is any relation to any of them.

If she says no, I would not explain what you think the connection is. Give her time to think; say that she is welcome to contact you at any time, if she thinks of anything she would like to talk about with you, and give her your contact information.

I suspect she would either know nothing, or, if she knows, will not want to talk about it.

I have grandparents (on both sides) whose parentage is unknown, and the people who did know died without telling. Although it would be interesting for me to solve those little mysteries, I don't expect to, and it's okay.

Yes my plan is to just tell her I am trying to identify a young woman who was living in the home of my sons great grandparents in 1930. And go from there. 

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2 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Solving a 90 year old mystery isn’t a good reason? Hmm.  It is to me.  And why do you assume the people have no interest on revealing the truth.   I have no way of knowing if they have any idea of HOW to solve this mystery.  Maybe it will be welcomed. 

 

I feel like you just want to play Nancy Drew here. 

Solving a 90 year old mystery just for the sake of solving a 90 year old mystery is not a good reason. What possible tangible benefit will you gain by doing this?

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3 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Solving a 90 year old mystery isn’t a good reason? Hmm.  It is to me.  And why do you assume the people have no interest on revealing the truth.   I have no way of knowing if they have any idea of HOW to solve this mystery.  Maybe it will be welcomed. 

And what if it’s not? What if it’s upsetting? Why risk that with a phone call? If you must contact her, please do it in writing and allow her the option of if and how she wants to respond.

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The more I think about it, the less likely I think that this lady would know anything. The possible older sister was adopted out of her family five years before she was born. And it was an era when people just did not talk about those things. I would think it highly unlikely that her mother would ever have told her that she had an older sister who was adopted.

Finding that out now may possibly be very upsetting to her. I think it's important for you to really understand that before you call, so that you can be sensitive in your approach.  And be ready to respect that she doesn't have to talk about it, if she doesn't want to, even if she knows everything.

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8 minutes ago, Bootsie said:

I think there is a big difference, in that it is your son's genealogy, not your genealogy.  If you son is interested in his genealogy, he could decide whether it is worth contacting the person (given that the person's reaction is uncertain.).  Does your son really care and want to know about this enough to contact the other person (knowing that his grandmother IS traumatized by this)?  Or, are you the one who really wants to know?  

I am not saying that it is a judgment on anyone's life; i just think many people would find it an intrusion on their privacy.  

My son wants to know.  He took the dna test.  He gave me access to his info to research,  my xh is interested.  He wants to know.  My XMIL has indicated she thinks this woman may be her mother....but this was said to my xh just a year or two back after years of her denying she was even adopted.

Edited by Scarlett

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6 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Solving a 90 year old mystery isn’t a good reason? Hmm.  It is to me.  And why do you assume the people have no interest on revealing the truth.   I have no way of knowing if they have any idea of HOW to solve this mystery.  Maybe it will be welcomed. 

Solving a 90-year old mystery (that isn't harming anyone remaining a mystery), is not a good reason if it traumatizes people.  

Maybe solving the mystery will be welcomed (but there is no evidence that the woman even knows that there is a mystery to solve) by some, but you already know that the issue is traumatizing to some involved.  I would go with "do no harm" rather than doing something that may be welcome.

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3 minutes ago, Storygirl said:

The more I think about it, the less likely I think that this lady would know anything. The possible older sister was adopted out of her family five years before she was born. And it was an era when people just did not talk about those things. I would think it highly unlikely that her mother would ever have told her that she had an older sister who was adopted.

Finding that out now may possibly be very upsetting to her. I think it's important for you to really understand that before you call, so that you can be sensitive in your approach.  And be ready to respect that she doesn't have to talk about it, if she doesn't want to, even if she knows everything.

Well what she will know is whether she is the daughter of the woman I am researching.  That is the main question at the moment.  I don’t intend to immediately say oh and by the way we think she is the bio mom of an out of wedlock child, 

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2 minutes ago, Storygirl said:

The more I think about it, the less likely I think that this lady would know anything. The possible older sister was adopted out of her family five years before she was born. And it was an era when people just did not talk about those things. I would think it highly unlikely that her mother would ever have told her that she had an older sister who was adopted.

Finding that out now may possibly be very upsetting to her. I think it's important for you to really understand that before you call, so that you can be sensitive in your approach.  And be ready to respect that she doesn't have to talk about it, if she doesn't want to, even if she knows everything.

 

Yes, and I don’t like the idea of possibly making an 84yo woman start second-guessing her family history and learning about long-hidden family secrets that perhaps she had never even heard about. That could be awful for her. 

Frankly, I think it would be pretty mean to risk upsetting her in that way just to try to solve a mystery for no good reason.

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1 minute ago, Scarlett said:

Obviously there are two camps to secrets.  I am in the against them camp.  

 

But these are not YOUR secrets. You don’t get to decide if other people are allowed to have secrets.

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1 minute ago, Catwoman said:

 

Yes, and I don’t like the idea of possibly making an 84yo woman start second-guessing her family history and learning about long-hidden family secrets that perhaps she had never even heard about. That could be awful for her. 

Frankly, I think it would be pretty mean to risk upsetting her in that way just to try to solve a mystery for no good reason.

Well I would welcome any truth about my life.  I like truth.  So not everyone is adverse to truth. 

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Just now, Catwoman said:

 

But these are not YOUR secrets. You don’t get to decide if other people are allowed to have secrets.

Scratching my head.   Because biology really isn’t subjective. It just is. When other humans come into play secrets take a back seat. 

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Just now, Scarlett said:

Scratching my head.   Because biology really isn’t subjective. It just is. When other humans come into play secrets take a back seat. 

 

No. They don’t. Just because someone is somehow biologically related to you does not entitle you to know all of their secrets.

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2 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Well what she will know is whether she is the daughter of the woman I am researching.  That is the main question at the moment.  I don’t intend to immediately say oh and by the way we think she is the bio mom of an out of wedlock child, 

It is interesting that you have mentioned that she shouldn't be ashamed for what her mother did and then mention that you think that her mother was the bio mom of an out of wedlock child.  There could be many other explanations.  For example, maybe the parents were married, the father had polio and died, and everyone thought this was best for the child to grow up in a two-parent family with this as a secret.    

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Just now, Catwoman said:

 

No. They don’t. Just because someone is somehow biologically related to you does not entitle you to know all of their secrets.

Oh I didn’t say ALL of their secrets.  Just the part that relate to other humans existence. 

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1 minute ago, Bootsie said:

It is interesting that you have mentioned that she shouldn't be ashamed for what her mother did and then mention that you think that her mother was the bio mom of an out of wedlock child.  There could be many other explanations.  For example, maybe the parents were married, the father had polio and died, and everyone thought this was best for the child to grow up in a two-parent family with this as a secret.    

Right,  who knows.  

The story is the father got a woman pregnant and he and his wife took the child to raise. 

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8 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Obviously there are two camps to secrets.  I am in the against them camp.  

It’s not your secret to keep or tell. It’s fine if you don’t want to keep secrets from your family or everyone in the world. But nothing criminal occurred, so there is no need to reveal or investigate this particular secret simply to satisfy your own curiosity. 

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1 minute ago, Frances said:

It’s not your secret to keep or tell. It’s fine if you don’t want to keep secrets from your family or everyone in the world. But nothing criminal occurred, so there is no need to reveal or investigate this particular secret simply to satisfy your own curiosity. 

Except for truths sake.  

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9 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Well I would welcome any truth about my life.  I like truth.  So not everyone is adverse to truth. 

But that’s you. Do you understand that others might feel very differently? Obviously your ex MIL does. To put it bluntly, I think you are being very heartless and selfish in your approach to this woman.

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Just now, Frances said:

But that’s you. Do you understand that others might feel very differently? Obviously your ex MIL does. To put it bluntly, I think you are being very heartless and selfish in your approach to this woman.

How will I know how she feels until I talk to her?  

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