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Genealogy/Genealogy and ethics


Greetings Michael Troy -

On my mother's deathbed (in 2004), she disclosed to my sister and to my youngest brother's ex-wife that my youngest brother's father was not the man she was married to.  My father (her husband) died in 1987.

Two important questions:

1.   How should that fact (my youngest brother's unknown father) be entered in Family Tree Maker?
2.   It seems to me that because the youngest brother's ex-wife was told, as well as my sister, that he (youngest brother) should be told.  So, should he (my youngest brother) be told of the fact that his father is unknown?  

I appreciate any guidance/help you can provide.

Jon Bond

Hi Jon,

That is really a tough question.  I'll try to answer in reverse order.

Deciding to tell your brother that the man he knew as his father is not really his father could be a terribly emotionally scarring disclosure.  It would certainly affect the way he views both of his parents and himself.  Factors to consider in whether to tell him would probably be his emotional maturity, the relationship he had with his parents, etc.  But given that several family members now know about the fact, it is probably important that he know the truth.  People are generally not happy about secrets being kept from them, even if done with the intention of protecting them.

As far as noting it in the family tree, a child born out of wedlock, commonly called a bastard, still carries with it quite a stigma, not only for the woman who had the child, the cuckold husband who raised him but also for the child himself, even thought he is presumably an adult now.  Genetics aside, if this child was raised by his mother's husband as his father, I think it is legitimate to consider him this person's father for purposes of the family tree.  I'm not sure that adding a question mark to this person's father under the family tree does anyone any good.  It will only lead to embarrassment for your brother and needless gossip among other family members.  I don't see the point of making it very prominent in a shared tree.

If you are really concerned that the truth of the matter be known to future generations.  You might make a note of your mother's death bed confession in your research notes for future researchers to read.  But putting out a family tree that everyone is going to read and discover that your brother is illegitimate just seems like it would cause unnecessary pain and embarrassment for him.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  


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Michael Troy


I can help with the following: How to get started with family research. Resources on the internet to help with research.


I have been researching my own family history for several years. My focus has primarily been in Pennsylvania, but have also done research on family from New York, Canada, Ireland, Germany, and the Ukraine.

Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania

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