Advice needed on telling a relative that they have an illegitimate half brother

+5 votes
I have been contacted by someone with a DNA match and we have worked out that one of my uncles had an illegitimate child that I knew nothing of. This uncle (deceased) has a living daughter and I think I need to tell her that she has a half brother. I’m struggling with how to do this. Anyone have a similar experience?
in Genealogy Help by Robyn Horan G2G Rookie (280 points)

A hypothetical "friend" would possibly work here. I have found them very helpful.

You: "I have found a relative of a 'friend' that she doesn't know about. Should I tell my 'friend' about her?"

Them: "Yes, tell your 'friend.' "or

Them: " No, don't tell your 'friend."
My personal choice is that I would tell about a half-sibling. The person who is receiving the information can then decide whether to act on that information or not.
Hi Betty

Yes, I agree. We’re all getting on a bit and my cousin has a couple of half nephews and nieces that she probably would like to know about.

5 Answers

+8 votes
First, you might not have known, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t.

Second, have you told her you are looking into the family history, and, has she expressed an interest? If she is not, or has actively said she doesn’t want to know, then perhaps you should follow her inclination.

There will be plenty of time for the truth to come out after she has passed away.
by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Good points.
Thanks Marion.

We have both been doing our family history for ten years. It’s possible that she knows, but I’m fairly certain she would have shared it with me. The half brother has never tried to find his family until recently. At this time I want to tell my cousin but I’m struggling with the wording. Her parents are both long dead, so it’s not a privacy issue.
If she has been doing family history that long, chances are she has seen it. If you really must record the other child you could connect them via a free space page, with privacy lock, so the records are there for later, but not in her face.

I am talking like this because I have seen the heartache caused by someone that ‘just had to let you know’ . They get to walk away. The person being told is forced to face the facts, again, that induced such pain in the past.
Marion, did you really say "if you really must record the other child"? As the illegitimate child in a family with many dirty secrets, I find this hurtful on a personal level. As though I, and people like me, are some aberration that's best left out of the official record, like a mutt born from a purebred dog.

Human beings have a right to an identity and a family. The "legal" children are not inherently more deserving of a place in the genealogy than an illegitimate child. We are all equal.
I am so sorry Jessica.

I do like what my priest used to say ‘there are no such thing as illegitimate children, just illegitimate parents’ (he actually used the b* word)

I was not saying don’t record the child, after all Wikitree is about 1 profile for every person, just that the connection to the father might be best left til later.

On reflection, thanks to your important reminder, I see I am wrong. Please accept my profound apologies.
+11 votes
Genealogy can turn up suicide, murder, and potentially even incest. And of course kids born out of wedlock.  You can find out that your grandmothers entire family changed their name to avoid scandal. There is no part of the human drama that cannot be turned up.  Both good and bad.  I never share anything but positive and neutral info UNLESS someone has specifically asked me for information AND I have warned them that while it's reasonably uncommon, it is possible to turn up the unexpected and unwelcome.  A good genealogist knows how to be quiet.
by Amy Garber G2G6 Mach 1 (13.5k points)
Thanks Amy

I have discovered a few surprising things, including a rape and a murder. I’ve hidden the rape detail from someone who contacted me. They can find that info themselves.

In this case the father of this child is long dead, and my cousin is in her late sixties. She recently lost a brother and is very family oriented. My gut feel is that she will be ok learning that she has a half brother. But I’m still not sure. I might wait a bit longer.
+3 votes
Yes, I had a very similar situation and I agonized about it when I first found out. I discussed it with one of our mutual aunts and she is the one who broke the news to my cousin and it all turned out well--she and her new-found half-sister are very happy about having found one another. We are all well up in age and their father is deceased.
by Nelda Spires G2G6 Pilot (458k points)
Hi Nelda

Yes, I agree with you. No aunts available though so if it’s done, it will need to be me. Everyone in our generation is in their 60s or 70s and it could easily be too late. My cousin also has two half nephews and a half niece that she doesn’t know about.
+3 votes

As far as similar experience goes, I found out that I was that illegitimate half sibling 3 years ago when I took a DNA test. I can tell you from experience that the truth eventually comes out and it can be hurtful, to say the least, to know that someone could have told you and didn't. I know someone else suggested it, but please do not wait until someone passes away to discuss it. I now have a nice relationship with my new found biological grandmother, but the amount of stories I've read where people found their families only to learn they had passed away is heartbreaking.

It's absolutely not a guarantee that your cousin will take the news well, but, from experience, I believe everyone deserves the chance to make that decision.

On a more light-hearted note, as a genealogist it was certainly fun to start half of my tree from scratch after 10 years! :)

by Jayme Arrington G2G6 Pilot (155k points)
Hi Jayme.

Yes, we’re all getting on so I think it needs to be done.

And yes, every time I get any new connections I’m back into it and it’s as exciting as when I first began.
0 votes
I would not share the information unless your cousin opens the conversation.  A possible half-sibling showed up in my husband’s family and it has caused a great deal of distress even though the person was born before my husband’s parents were married.  I don’t think it’s up to you to proactively share the information.
by Kathie Forbes G2G6 Pilot (591k points)
I had a family situation that came at the problem from the other direction.   An older cousin who was disabled.   His father left and divorced his mother .  (I found the marriage record but not a divorce record so maybe that wasn't official. )  My family was close to him and his mother.   My aunt knew her exhusband had a second family and said she doubted the knew anything about her or their son.  He never gave any support or visited my cousin.   My dad ended up being a substitute dad for him.  I started doing genealogy after all the people involved were dead and decided to add his father to my Ancestry tree.  I said nothing about the second family but had sources for his mothers' marriage and his birth.   I later got an angry message from a half sister who insisted I change the profile because her father was never married before.   I didn't reply or change the listing.   My cousin spent his life without acknowledgement fron his father and I felt the least I could do was to give him one for the future records.   My cousin  never married or had children.   The end of the story came later when a half sister contacted me again and wanted more information about my cousin and aunt.  Apparently the family had talked about it and somone remembered a little handicapped boy at a long ago family reunion.   I sent the information she requested and have not heard from them again.   Ronnie still has his connection to his dad.

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