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Genealogy and very old secrets


Scarlett
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1 hour ago, Scarlett said:

I feel strongly that this 90 year secret has caused mostly grief.  I am going to call her. 

1

 

How will calling this lady change the feeling of grief?  Who will be helped by this action?

You've written that you feel your xMIL's problems stem from lies about her adoption.  So if you contact this lady and find out the truth, what then? How will that help your xMIL?  

You seem really determined to do this, almost like you are on a mission to right a wrong.  How will doing this right the supposed wrong? 

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2 hours 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, ex-DIL is a non family member. 

1 hour ago, Scarlett said:

 My son has no idea who his great grandmother is.... 

 

I'm getting a strong vibe that he also doesn't care. If he asked you to track down his unknown great grandparents, well, paint me very surprised. 

How is a phone call any more certain to reach the correct person than a letter? If the recipient is willing to talk to you, the only difference is that a phone call gets you an answer somewhat more quickly. As it's a 90-yr-old secret, I don't think a week is going to make much of a difference. 

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There was a closed, probably secret adoption involved. When someone puts a baby up for adoption like this then yes they are entitled to their secrets. This adoption could have been the result of a rape, insest or an affair all of which could be painful to bring up if this woman knew and painful to find out if she didn't. If someone called me out of the blue in these circumstances I would find it rude and deeply upsetting. What are you going to do if she says no she does not want to talk to you?

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The truth doesn't have feelings. This woman does. Just because you don't understand why other people might have feelings that differ from what you imagine yours would be doesn't mean you have the right to run roughshod all over them. Stop being so stubborn! Listen to what people are telling you and consider their perspective.

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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.  

 

If you really feel that way, then why are you bothering to "solve this mystery" in the first place? None of those people have any connection to your son anyway. They're all dead, and none of their actions have any bearing on his life.

(Also, if your son is oh-so-upset by not knowing who his great-grandmother is, then I don't understand why YOU are doing this research. This woman is certainly no relation of yours. If he cares, let him do it! Not every little thing is your business.)

Edited by Tanaqui
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3 hours ago, 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. 

 

I have to - well I don't have to, but I want to just say this: I am not 84 yet, but would find it odd if someone called me. First of all, I could not be sure who the caller is (you can identify yourself but I have no way of knowing who you really are) and I am fairly sure I would not want to discuss my mother (or any other relative) over the phone and with a complete stranger. Now, if you email or better yet, write me a letter, explain what research led to your findings, how I can contact you (physical address) if I wish to contact you, I would possibly consider it. My mother, who is a lot closer to 84 than I am would not be freaked but she would likely hang up on someone who just called out of the blue and with no way of verifying who that person is.

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2 hours ago, Scarlett said:

Huh? How can she contact me if she doesn’t know I exist?

 

If you write her and explain things well, she will know you exist and possibly have a better picture of what it is you are trying to determine and why. She would also have the option of ignoring it. I suppose she could ignore your phone call as well by hanging up but she may feel put on the spot. I think we need to remember here what this generation is comfortable with. I am thinking of my mother since she is of this generation. A phone call would feel too intrusive to her whereas a letter would be different. 

My mother did receive a letter over ten years ago from a man in Norway who had found her name doing this same kind of research. He wrote out painstakingly what he discovered and included his contact information. My mother called me and said something like: "Isn't this interesting?! I think I write him my phone number and see if he calls." He did call indeed and they chatted (there was no illegitimate child / adopted child, etc. involved) - not sure if that would have made a difference to my mother. Had he just called her, she would have likely hung up on him and then told me she got a call from some nutter.  🙂

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My mil passed away at 80 at the beginning of the year.  She had early stage dementia, but still lived alone until 6 months before her death, when she was very ill and rapidly declined. In her last year, she had a hard time following any type of conversation over the phone and would have been upset and fretting about it for days had she got a phone call from a stranger, asking about her family, however sensitive the person might have thought they were being. 

There were a few family secrets too and although I did try to pry (bearing in mind she new exactly who I was) whilst doing my own genealogical research, she always answered, "we don't talk about that, the past is the past".  She was of that generation.  When she became more ill, she did let her guard down and say a few things that allowed me to put 2 and 2 together, but it was not intentional.  We would all have been very upset for her if a stranger had called out of the blue asking about her family.  We don't believe that the 'truth' trumps one's right to privacy, even if you may share some dna.

 

Edited by Hannah
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I can understand wanting to unravel the secret. I've been helping a friend figure out a similar situation and the only remaining person who really knows the situation is in her nineties. I think a lot of people who remain from these situations feel so much shame that it's really tricky to make inroads especially when they are older. My friend has failed at unravelling it at this point and it might be one for her kids to piece together later. I think with older people writing an initial letter is the way to go. It gives them time to think rather than react in shock. 

 

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I think it’s completely fine to contact a stranger with family history questions if they have submitted their contact info or dna to a family history website or something like that.  They’ve made it clear that contact is fine in that case.  Anything else seems inappropriate and invasive.

Parts of my family history have some incredibly disturbing secrets.  I research those through public records and talking to relatives who choose to talk about them (and who initiate the discussion). I would never, ever call a stranger to talk to her about those secrets.  I suppose an extremely vague letter might be okay if you really want to make contact, but nothing more seems remotely acceptable to me. I can find the basic outline through public records, but I have no right to the personal recollections or feelings of any other human being, especially someone who doesn’t know me. A phone call comes much closer to demanding that than a letter does, no matter how friendly you think the phone call would be.

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6 hours ago, Scarlett said:

I know people see these things differently.....I feel strongly that this 90 year secret has caused mostly grief.

How has the secret caused grief? It sounds like it was a loving solution to a common problem back then - unwed mothers were shamed. Abortion wasn't an option (not that I support it anyway) and the idea of a public pregnancy followed by an adoption was unheard of. It was common for a married family member to step in, care for the pregnant woman, and adopt her child, all in secret...because of that shaming thing.

Those poor half-sisters, in their 80s, were raised in an era where that was still true. No matter what they are told - "Neither you nor your mother had anything to be ashamed of" - it will be hard to change that deeply ingrained feeling and could easily cause pain.

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I am not going to go into my personal stuff too much, but I was adopted.  In every board I am on for adoption they say DO NOT CALL.  Calling catches them off-guard and may result in a hang up or worse.  

Write an actual snail mail letter.  Include your info, preferably a photo of your son, and explain that you are just trying to find answers and would love to have contact.  Give the other person time to deal with the situation, emotionally, before you make physical (or phone) contact.

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7 hours ago, Scarlett said:

Well it is mind boggling to me that anyone would be freaked out by a phone call about genealogy.  Hi I am doing genealogy.  I have connected your name to a woman who lived with my sons family in 1930....is it possible she was your mother?  How is that intrusive?

Because asking somebody about their mother is an extremely personal question that can bring up all kinds of issues for the person, and it is really none of your business.

Your quest for "truth" does not give you the right to invade an old lady's privacy and to upset her. 

Edited by regentrude
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Hm.  Here's my opinion.  Years ago my oldest son was working when a woman walked in that he said looked exactly. like. me.  Long story short, her mother lived about an hour from where I grew up.  There are other details I won't share.   So is  she  my half sister?  Do I want anything to do with her?  No.  

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12 minutes ago, MaBelle said:

Hm.  Here's my opinion.  Years ago my oldest son was working when a woman walked in that he said looked exactly. like. me.  Long story short, her mother lived about an hour from where I grew up.  There are other details I won't share.   So is  she  my half sister?  Do I want anything to do with her?  No.  I'd like to get my hands on her mother though.

 

 

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9 hours ago, Scarlett said:

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. 

As interesting as it surely sounds, I'd leave it alone.  Why does it matter if your ds knows about his great grandmother?  Or more than an idea of his grandfather?  Sure, genealogy is interesting and can even be helpful in some cases (I'm thinking for medical reasons), and it's nice to know about the lives of our ancestors when we can, but I think that, generally, our curiosity about knowing those things shouldn't override the privacy of someone's personal story.  We all have blank spots in our family's history.  That's life.

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Scarlett, I think you would have a better chance at more satisfying answers in writing.

My dad's sister is a similar age.  If I were to ask her questions about the family tree I would want the answers in writing.  A lot of these memories are old and may not come up "in order".  She might have a lot of information, but she may not remember it in a way that flows easily in conversation.

It might be something like "My mom had a sister and two brothers.  Their names were Anne, John, and James.  Oh, wait.  There might have been a second sister but she died as a baby.  Or was it a boy that died.  I can't remember...."

By getting the answer in writing, the person doing the remembering has a chance to edit the information to get the most accurate and complete answer.

Also, I *think* my aunt would answer my questions, but I don't know for sure.  I've only met her once -- at my dad's funeral.  We did talk about some family things, but not *everything*.  Her mother died when she was very young.  Even though there was nothing shameful (that I know of!), the memories might still be very painful.

A lot of people this age experience depression around the holidays, especially when they start thinking about how very few of their family members are left.  It can be very sad for them to remember who they won't be celebrating Christmas with.  My aunt is alone.  I would not want to bring up all of these memories -- good or bad -- at this time of year.

I would *maybe* send a letter, but I would wait until after the holidays.

 

ETA:  I would not contact this woman at all, but you asked for suggestions in contacting her. *If* I were going to contact her, this is how I would handle it.

Edited by Junie
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Well, I don't post here often, but I have strong feeling on this topic.  I think it is terribly awful to contact this woman.  If someone contacted my MIL at the age of 84 about family secrets that would upset her so much!  You are not acknowledging that your actions COULD cause serious anxiety and pain.  This seems selfish to me.  Really really selfish.

I agree if you want to contact her, write a letter and ask if she would like to talk..  Or better yet, don't contact her at all.

Don't ask for advice if you are unwilling to take it.  

Honestly, there are several posters on this board that continually, ask for advice and then cannot take any of it.  Surprises me every time, and makes me wonder why the person is posting at all.

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My mom is in her 80s. There is a family secret that involved her that NO ONE wanted to discuss. Her siblings that knew the truth are now dead, so don't forget the mindset of that generation to literally take their secrets to the grave even when they love and care about the person involved. 

Also, consider that many 80s year olds are in various forms of mental or physical. Since you are cold-calling you have no idea whether this idea would upset her or not. 

Another consideration already brought to your attention is the form of communication. My mom loves to talk on the phone but would be hesitant to provide any information to a stranger. A letter allows them time to process, gives them written words should another family member inquire about the nature of the contact. Otherwise, like stated above,  you set yourself up to receive an earful from one of her family members. 

What is the point of this call? Information, then you're more likely to get it through a letter. You MUST consider how this woman could feel about the contact. A letter gives her time to consider a response. Even if she is more than willing, at her age, it may take some time to process the memories. 

 

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There's a story about a biological mother that was told that her baby had died at birth.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/woman-reunites-daughter-she-thought-had-died-birth-nearly-70-n944556

I live in a state where a XYZ religion was the only agency in charge of adoption. Sometimes that religion's beliefs played a part in what birth mothers were told or not told about their babies' adoptions.  Sometimes birth mothers don't have the ability to answer some of the questions you might be looking for.

I have a relative that converted in the 1940s to XYZ religion to be able to adopt a baby. 

I worked with a women that traveled to Canada in the 1950s to give birth because she didn't like the choices that XYZ religion offered her in this state.

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Even if there are no secrets, there can be a lot of trauma, and I think you're missing the trauma side of this.

I won't go into the details, because it's someone else's story, but I have personally witnessed the trauma of being the one that Mom decided not to keep. This was an open adoption, from birth. There were no secrets whatsoever. Just believe me when I say that this kid is deeply, deeply traumatized. There is no way, after seeing what I've seen, that I'd dig this up. Especially being so far removed from the situation.

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How much pain are you willing to cause this woman, Scarlett? 

If I've read your replies correctly, you seem to think it might not be a big deal at all. But so many people here are telling you it could very well cause this woman a lot of pain...so how much pain are you prepared to be the cause of?

So imagine yourself with your quest for TRUTH as an actual bludgeon. How hard do you think you'll hit her?

 

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2 hours ago, MaBelle said:

 

 

2 hours ago, MaBelle said:

Hm.  Here's my opinion.  Years ago my oldest son was working when a woman walked in that he said looked exactly. like. me.  Long story short, her mother lived about an hour from where I grew up.  There are other details I won't share.   So is  she  my half sister?  Do I want anything to do with her?  No.  I'd like to get my hands on her mother though.

 

And not get your hands on your father?

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You didn't make this a JAWM so I'll give my opinion of HOW you go about it. You don't. The end. Her right to be left alone, to not talk about it, to not relieve something this potentially upsetting trumps your curiosity.

 

Scarlett, you seem to be entirely missing the point that these kinds of things can be VERY traumatizing, and at such an elderly age, I would caution you that this type of thing has caused panic attacks that lead to heart issues. Your desire to know simply does not give you the right to do this to her. It is actually a very cruel action towards her. Please don't do it.

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11 hours ago, maize said:

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.

 

Agree! As Mark Watney says, start by sciencing the s*#% out of it first. 

And at 84, if she does want to speak about it, she could be a terribly unreliable source, burying the info in falsehood to keep a secret, secret.

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8 hours ago, Liz CA said:

 

I have to - well I don't have to, but I want to just say this: I am not 84 yet, but would find it odd if someone called me. First of all, I could not be sure who the caller is (you can identify yourself but I have no way of knowing who you really are) and I am fairly sure I would not want to discuss my mother (or any other relative) over the phone and with a complete stranger. Now, if you email or better yet, write me a letter, explain what research led to your findings, how I can contact you (physical address) if I wish to contact you, I would possibly consider it. My mother, who is a lot closer to 84 than I am would not be freaked but she would likely hang up on someone who just called out of the blue and with no way of verifying who that person is.

a couple years ago, I had someone call me. in retrospect, I think they were looking for a birth mother (there is another woman in my area with the same name as me.  she is near my age, and years ago lived in the area they were asking if I lived. - If I search my name, she comes up too.)

I told her I never lived in the area she was asking about, said sorry - goodbye.  she called back the next night.   I told you I never lived there.  goodbye.  next night - her friend! calls me and is very pushy.  I was livid! and was quite irate as I pointed out I told them I wasn't the person for whom they were looking.

if they had written a letter - I probably would have been able to give them information pointing them in a more helpful direction.

2 hours ago, MaBelle said:

Hm.  Here's my opinion.  Years ago my oldest son was working when a woman walked in that he said looked exactly. like. me.  Long story short, her mother lived about an hour from where I grew up.  There are other details I won't share.   So is  she  my half sister?  Do I want anything to do with her?  No.  

have you heard of the phenomena of "unrelated identical twins?"   two people with no genetic/dna relationship, who look like identical twins?   there's even a website to put people in touch with theirs.   there have even been cases where they are in the same town.  (one was constantly being accused of rudeness by his friends because they thought he was ignoring them - when in reality it was his "non-dna" twin who had no clue who those people were.   one set even worked in the same hospital and wore the same scrubs.

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12 hours ago, Scarlett said:

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

 

You’re making it very black and white about truth. 

It’s not just about truth. It’s about discretion. Discretion can rightfully and righteously be a gray area. We show people grace when we don’t force them to wave their dirty laundry about, or that of those they love. 

Keep grace and discretion near as you search for the truth. 

Edited by Seasider too
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scarlett, if you insist on doing this - write a letter and include your contact information.  do. not. call.!  

that gives her time to process, to talk to her own children, or throw away the letter and continue with her privacy.  she has a choice - you callling is not likely to get what you want, and is likely to cause upset.  do you really want to be guilty of causing someone else grief?    ripping the cover off this secret will NOT make your exmil feel better.  it will not heal any of her grief.

I've found skeletons in my own family, the fall-out of which caused a lot of grief.  I wouldn't even tell an elderly relative about that skeleton because they is zero point to it.  it would have just upset her, and it wouldn't have changed anything anyway.

if your son or your ex haven't done a dna test - they can do one which could actually be more helpful.   memories get confused as people age, and what you get back from her could be a complete jumble.

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And the thing is, we all have done something in the past that we can't erase, and at times wish we could.

If this were a case of an affair, rape or incest...there may be shame involved.  That is why there are 'secrets'. But you have no idea of the shame someone had to live with for the rest of their lives. Really, some things are just not right to bring up again.

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I am on my phone and can’t rrply to everyone, but I would like to say to all of you who are so harsh with me thank you for helping me see. It from another perspective. 

I do intend to be very gentle and discreet. I wasn’t going to say hey I think you are my MILs half sister.

Rather I intend to tell her I am researching X family and a woman with last name Z showed as living with X family. She was listed as a cousin to the head of household and I am trying to make that connection. 

Because in spite of the suspicion we have maybe she was just a cousin. 

I have a brain enough to not keep on if I feel she is upset in any way. 

And for every story you all tell about how upsetting this is I can tell a story about how happy or interested a person is. 

I felt a little defensive reading all of  your posts but in reality I recognize  we may never know the answer to all of these unknowns. 

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12 hours ago, Scarlett said:

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

But Scarlett, you don’t really have the right to decide for this woman you do not know.  I think it’s very wrong to call up someone you don’t know and potentially upend her life.  I would be horrified and p!$$ed off if someone did that to my 85 yr old grandma. 

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1 minute ago, happysmileylady said:

But Scarlett, you don’t really have the right to decide for this woman you do not know.  I think it’s very wrong to call up someone you don’t know and potentially upend her life.  I would be horrified and p!$$ed off if someone did that to my 85 yr old grandma. 

Please read my last post. I have no intention of upsetting her. 

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Just now, Scarlett said:

Please read my last post. I have no intention of upsetting her. 

But you seem just fine with risking upsetting her. Your intentions count for nothing if the result is upset or worse. Even if she is thrilled, you are still wrong to let your desire for information override her potential suffering. Virtually everyone agrees that if you must do something, write her. It’s gentler and gives her more control over the situation.

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14 hours ago, Scarlett said:

 

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

You don't. For all the reasons already mentioned.

11 hours ago, ***** said:

You asked:    

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

It seems that most people on this site that responded agreed that you shouldn't call her and discuss this.  You asked for an opinion and now you are arguing about it since you don't like their answer.   What gives?
 
 

Yep.

10 hours ago, Thatboyofmine said:

This thread is so upsetting. If someone called up my now-deceased 84yo grandmother with this crap, I would hope that person would leave their name and address or phone number.  They’d get a surprise of their own because I’d sure as hell be in contact.   You could cause trauma for this old lady and you don’t seem to care, because the ‘truth’ trumps human beings, I guess.  She is 84!  84!  Normal people don’t call up an 84yo they’ve never met and say ‘who’s your real mother?’  That is NOT normal behavior.    

No, it's not.

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17 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

I am on my phone and can’t rrply to everyone, but I would like to say to all of you who are so harsh with me thank you for helping me see. It from another perspective. 

I do intend to be very gentle and discreet. I wasn’t going to say hey I think you are my MILs half sister.

Rather I intend to tell her I am researching X family and a woman with last name Z showed as living with X family. She was listed as a cousin to the head of household and I am trying to make that connection. 

Because in spite of the suspicion we have maybe she was just a cousin. 

I have a brain enough to not keep on if I feel she is upset in any way. 

And for every story you all tell about how upsetting this is I can tell a story about how happy or interested a person is. 

I felt a little defensive reading all of  your posts but in reality I recognize  we may never know the answer to all of these unknowns. 

Given that you've received essentially the same message in the last 2 or 3 threads on this topic, and you've seemed to not even remember the anti-contact arguments, I don't know that anything will flip the switch in your head:

IMO: Simply making contact is wrong because I MIGHT hurt people. The risk of hurting someone is enough for me NOT to do it. 

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2 minutes ago, unsinkable said:

Given that you've received essentially the same message in the last 2 or 3 threads on this topic, and you've seemed to not even remember the anti-contact arguments, I don't know that anything will flip the switch in your head:

IMO: Simply making contact is wrong because I MIGHT hurt people. The risk of hurting someone is enough for me NOT to do it. 

Making contact with another human is potentially harmful? 

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16 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Please read my last post. I have no intention of upsetting her. 

I think what people are trying to tell you is that just contacting her could be upsetting to her. And since you don't know her, you can't predict if that will be the case. I try to err on the side of kindness whenever possible, and it seems to me in this case, just the possibility that this might be upsetting to an elderly woman would be enough to keep me from contacting her at all.

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5 minutes ago, MrsMommy said:

I think what people are trying to tell you is that just contacting her could be upsetting to her. And since you don't know her, you can't predict if that will be the case. I try to err on the side of kindness whenever possible, and it seems to me in this case, just the possibility that this might be upsetting to an elderly woman would be enough to keep me from contacting her at all.

Well that hasn’t  been my experience. 

Edited by Scarlett
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12 hours ago, Scarlett said:

Well it is mind boggling to me that anyone would be freaked out by a phone call about genealogy.  Hi I am doing genealogy.  I have connected your name to a woman who lived with my sons family in 1930....is it possible she was your mother?  How is that intrusive?

Regardelss, all of the comments make me realize I don’t agre with you at all.  

 

11 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

It seems a lot of you are assuming I am going to do things that I sm not going to. Who is your real mother? Where did that question come from? 

It came from you.  See bolded. 

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Just now, Scarlett said:

Well that hasn’t  been my experience. 

Look, I obviously don't have a dog in this race. You're going to do what you want. But I would encourage you to consider how united The Hive's opinion is on this one, because let's face it, that doesn't happen often. If so many people are telling you this could be potentially harmful, they may have experiences that are worth taking into account.

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6 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Making contact with another human is potentially harmful? 

Don't play dumb, Scarlett. 

Making contact in the context of *genealogy and very old family secrets* can be potentially harmful. 

You seem to be enjoying tap dancing around the issue.

I think that maybe you don't have the balls to say... "It is worth risking hurting someone to get what I want." Or maybe you might know somewhere deep inside you that it is wrong and are having a hard time admitting it.

 I hope it is the second.

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Just now, unsinkable said:

Don't play dumb, Scarlett. 

Making contact in the context of *genealogy and very old family secrets* can be potentially harmful. 

You seem to be enjoying tap dancing around the issue.

I think that maybe you don't have the balls to say... "It is worth risking hurting someone to get what I want." Or maybe you might know somewhere deep inside you that it is wrong and are having a hard time admitting it.

 I hope it is the second.

I am not playing dumb. And I am not going to call her up and say hey I need to ask you about old family secrets. 

 

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