Thursday, November 03, 2022

November: Maricopa County

Looking for advice.

A fellow family-tree-building relative recently downloaded our great-grandparents' 1950 Census form, which appears to indicate that my maternal grandmother (who was living back at home at the time) had another child at some point who isn't accounted for. 

Complicating matters is that this relative and I have a suspicion that the child might actually be my mom's cousin "Sam" -- our theory being that my grandmother got pregnant when she didn't want to so gave Sam to her infertile older sister to raise as her own -- and the timeline and details add up perfectly. 

I don't know if my mother or Sam have any idea about this. At the time I'm sure it would have been shameful, although hardly so today. 

Whether it's an unknown sibling or Sam, I'm not clear if I should bring any of this up with Mom when I'm in Arizona over Thanksgiving. To be certain, I wouldn't immediately throw the theory out there -- I would simply show her the Census form and ask what she thought of her mom's stating four live births. ("Do you think the census-taker made a mistake?") But I feel like any movement toward broaching the topic could inevitably lead to the same theory. 

To give you a better sense of the situation, my mother and her (known) siblings were abused and placed in an orphanage for a number of years as children, and because of the trauma never really had much of a relationship as adults. (My grandmother died at 50 and she and my mother had been estranged the 10 years prior.) The relative who obtained the Census is much older than I am and has never heard a whisper about this baby -- let alone our theory -- even when everyone was alive, which makes me think if true could be a bit of a shock to my mom and Sam, whom I have only met once. (Again: This is a very fractured family where members have spoken to each other only a handful of times over decades and decades.) 

A friend I told about this asked if I had "good reasons" to pursue this, noting that in her opinion "idle curiosity" or "getting at the truth" don’t qualify. I'm ambivalent. The few people I have told tend to err on the side of thinking this is definitely a negative can of worms. I'm not as convinced. Mom and Sam casually reconnected a few years ago after 65 years and I can see how much finally having a family member in her life means to her, a closeness she didn't even have with her own sister and brother. Everyone else who could be affected by this has died -- and because of health issues, Mom and Sam will almost certainly never share more than a phone call again. So if she and Bob are in fact siblings -- and didn't know it -- I really don't see her being saddened by it. If anything, I think it would be a nice way to fill an emotional void that was made deeper by her brother's untimely death in 2013. But if it turns out my grandmother gave away a baby and her other children never knew -- which in fairness was my grandma's prerogative -- then I suppose it could be another deeply painful reminder of my mom's chaotic upbringing. (My mom has done 23andMe and no close relatives have appeared.)

Tell me your thoughts in the comments. 

P.S. I guess I am going to finally test the theory that no one in my family looks at my blog!


Edgar_Carpenter said...

If you think this could be good for your mom, sure, tell her about it. She can't get back the past, but this could improve her present.

Here's a link to another story of family inheritance secrets - it's even more complicated. Sir Paul Nurse, a brilliant British geneticist (and a very nice man), tells his story . . .

Edgar Carpenter

Unknown said...

The 1950 census is in the public domain as of this year. So at least you should know that anyone in your family circle could have easily found this information.

John said...

Your idea of mentioning it to her without sharing a theory is perfect. Let her react.

That’s gentle.

Sounds like you’d prefer to know.

Curtis Burns said...

Could you suggest to your mom and her possible half brother to take Ancestry tests? I have had this happen in my family and that solved the issue for everyone.

Unknown said...

If I had a sibling out there I didn't know about, this information is something that I would want to hear. Agree that it would be better to explore different theories with her about who this is, but perhaps exploration isn't necessary. I had multiple family secrets and was surprised when they were uncovered that my mother knew more than she let on. Your mother might already know about this sibling.

Jeffery said...

Oprah found out she had a sister she didn’t know anything about.

A DNA test would solve the question if Sam is willing.

Games & Rings said...

My mother and her two siblings were amused to find out their father had had another child with a different woman before they (or their other two half-siblings) were born. My mother specifically was more than amused, and was curious enough to want more detail and would have wanted contact with her new-found half-sibling had he been alive and the parties all lived in proximity (this spans three countries). It all had come to light when an adult child of the new-found but deceased person did his own ancestral investigation, something no one in my family ever thought much of. That my mother already had a half-sibling who had ran away at 18 and never was seen again was background that probably led to the 'amusement' that here was another piece of paternal drama.

If you think this would negatively 'rock your mom's boat', why bother if it's just idle curiosity. But if you think your mom might shrug or be ambivalent, I'd go the passive story-telling route of what does she think the census meant. Thought: is there a chance she suspects / knows of at least something was off with 'Sam'. That's something she might not have wanted to share.

Lynn said...

A couple of comments:

1) If I had given up a child to my sister under those circumstances, I wouldn't tell the census taker about the child. (Particularly not in 1950, when, as you said, it would have been shameful.) Could your grandmother have had a baby that died at birth? (My grandmother did, and it was not talked about much. I heard about it three times, once directly from her and once from my father. But both times it was in response to a question that might never have been asked.)

2) Census takers did make mistakes. A friend looked up my grandmother's family and asked me, "What happened to your grandmother's twin sister?" The answer is that nothing happened to her. "Auntie," as she was known to us, lived to age 77, and she and my grandmother were always close. But for reasons unknown, she was not listed in the 1908 census after being listed in 1904.

That said, I think you should mention what your relative noticed to your mother -- being ready to mention the reasons it might mean nothing if you sense that's what your mother wants to hear.

I'm guessing she'll be curious but not disturbed. If there is anything to what you and your relative suspect, she may have long since sensed that something is off and be happy to get the additional info. And if there's nothing to it, she may be able to tell you that.

Bilstr said...

Talk w/ your mom.
My grandmother had a mysterious cousin from across Michigan. When her mother was on her death bed she told grama that cousin Claude was really her half-brother. Her father had had a brief marriage near Port Huron, got divorced and moved to Kalamazoo. Claude visited once or twice a year. Dad knew him as a rarely-seen cousin. Grama only told dad and his brothers 20 years after her mother's death when Claude died. Eventually dad and his brothers got to know their cousins. My proper grandmother remained slightly embarrassed but this brother and she never told anyone else.
Bill Strong

David said...

Have you looked at the census record for the older sister? (Although people 'fibbed' about these things to the census takers...) David Wulff