When you go uprooting your family tree, you might shake loose some dead leaves and broken limbs you never knew were there.
_This piece is based on a number of AskReddit threads. Links on the last page. _
My great-grandfather had two families that lived about 200 yards from each other for about 20 years. Neither had any idea the other existed until the funeral. When the priest asked the spouse to step forward, two women did. I’ve been told it was quite a scene in the aftermath.
I remember going to see my grandma when I was younger and being told these people were my half cousins but had no idea what that meant until I was lot older and my dad told me what had happened.
My great-grandaunt (great-grandmother’s sister) had a son out of wedlock with a guy who was married. A couple years later when she got married herself, the new husband told her he didn’t want the other man’s child and wouldn’t let the son live in the house. They abandoned the kid on the side of the road on the way into town. They never heard from him again, but presumably, someone picked him up and he found a better life.
Apparently, way back in the day, my family were shipwreckers. They’d go up to the cliffs and shine a light to direct ships onto rocks, then they’d steal whatever they could after the ships broke land.
In the still of the night.
My ancestors were kicked out of a town in Kentucky for blowing up a church because they had a still underneath it.
Someone draw a diagram.
My “mom” is actually my grandma, my “dad” is my step-grandpa, and my “sister” who is 13 years older than me is my mom. And my biological dad was 21 when he got her pregnant.
Wait for me.
My Great Grandmother was a dirty Irish scammer (sorry Nanny). During WW2, she used to scam multiple American and British soldiers who would come to Liverpool, on their way to the front. She would talk them into “marrying” her, then collect a percentage of their pay and pawn any jewelry she was given.
When I was a kid my grandpa was a retired NASA “astronaut” with a funny accent. When I was older I learned he was actually an engineer that used to be a Nazi back in Germany, but was brought to the US to help the defense sector, and later the Space Program.
Long lost friend?
A long time ago, back when I was still in middle school my mom’s best friend died. She wouldn’t tell me how she died. Only that it was sudden. When I asked why we weren’t going to the funeral she told me that there wouldn’t be one because “her body was being donated to science.”
I didn’t ask any more questions. That was the last time we ever talked about her.
Well, five months ago my mom handed me her phone to find the number for Domino’s and as I’m scrolling through her contacts I come across the phone number of the dead best friend.
Biggest WTF moment of my life. The next day, I called her number from a pay phone at Waffle House and she picked up. I instantly recognized her voice and accent. She’s not dead. Why did my mom lie? Where did she go? What’s going on here? I’m afraid I don’t know. And I kind of don’t want to know.
No such thing as boring people.
My great-grandparents ran a very successful brothel for people with extreme BDSM taste. Then they immigrated to the US with a bunch of money and started legit businesses. They died as respectable, boring people from the suburbs.
Babies on board.
My favorite uncle cheated on my auntie. Ended up impregnating the woman. She had the child and my uncle was forced to tell my aunt. She divorced him. He became an alcoholic and I had absolutely no idea.
I thought all the times we were going for car rides as a kid he purposely drove crazy because it was entertaining for me and my cousins, but it turns out he was just plastered.
The child who didn’t exist.
There was a child born on an isolated farm during the great depression. She was born at home with no midwife or doctor in attendance. The parents never registered a birth certificate with the county for her. She got very sick with a high fever as a young child (3-4 years old), and there was no money for a doctor, no phone to call anybody, no car to drive her into town, and no neighbors near enough to go ask for help.
The family treated her as best as they could, but she died after a couple of days. She was buried on the family land with no official grave marker. Since her birth was never registered, her death wasn’t either.
Nobody knew she had lived and died but the immediate family. None of the (now very elderly) surviving siblings remember exactly where she was buried on the property. Just that her name was Violet, she was a very pretty blonde child, and she was completely healthy but fell ill and died over the course of only a few days.
I think she knew.
My grandmother walked in on her father having sex with another man when she was around 14 or 15. She never told my great-grandmother, who somehow never found out.
Loose lips sink ships.
My father had an affair with his brother’s wife so my cousin is also my brother. My cousin doesn’t know. The only reason I know is that grandma let this slip while she was drunk.
A friend in steed.
I found out that one of my ancestors was exiled from Russia for challenging an army officer to a duel (with swords) and winning. My ancestor worked in the Czar’s stable, and the argument arose when the army officer insisted on riding my ancestor’s horse. The horse threw him off and the army officer shot it.
We’ve always been horse people.
An eye for an eye?
When I was 5, my mom decided that she didn’t want to be with my dad anymore. My dad has anger issues so naturally they had a huge fight. Since I was young I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember my dad waving the TV remote around as he screamed.
That’s when my 7-year-old sister tried to get in between them. It must’ve been perfect timing because as soon as my sister got close, my dad swung the TV remote and hit my sister straight in the eye.
She was completely blinded in that eye because of this accident. My parents said she fell, and she doesn’t remember much of it because it was so traumatic. But I remember.
My sister was bullied mercilessly about her eye in school and dropped out in the 10th grade. She’s had a very rough life because of it. She’s very close to my dad and I don’t think I will ever tell her what really happened. But I do kinda resent my parents for not taking responsibility.
Why wouldn’t you want to know?
My dad got a girl pregnant when he was a teenager and she gave him the ultimatum of leaving or staying. If he left she wouldn’t go after him for child support, so of ????course he left. The secret came out because he told my mom when they were dating 25 years ago (before I was born) that he MIGHT have a son.
She didn’t look into it. My sister and I found my brother on Facebook. He looks identical to me and has a daughter. I met him a few months ago and he’s awesome. We told the rest of my family and now my dad doesn’t talk to any of us. My brother has a daughter so I’m an aunt and my grandma is a great grandma.
One of my ancestors was killed in the Salem witch trials. He was like the 7th or 8th generation of his name, and to this day the firstborn son of each generation bears his name. He’s actually depicted in The Crucible as well.
The gang’s all here.
My great aunt and uncle were the sweetest people imaginable. When I was growing up they lived four houses down, so I used to go around to their house a lot after school. My uncle Jimmy used to play dollies and tea party with me. I have very fond memories of them.
When my uncle Jimmy died, I remember all these very professional looking old men at his funeral, surrounded by what looked like to me security guards. My mum casually mentioned to me many years later that my uncle Jimmy was an old-fashioned gangster. He did time for robbery and trafficking. He was also accused of murdering four people but there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. I was gobsmacked.
Did nazi that coming.
My grandmother’s older brother was a Nazi. And not just a regular ground level Nazi, he was in prison a good long while when the war ended. He was Danish so that made it even worse.
Also, my grandmother’s dad and her other brothers hustled jews trying to escape the country in 1939-1940. They would sell their belongings in order to get boat rides to Sweden, and my relatives would buy them way underpriced.
Yeah, really makes you proud to think about.
That’s just Cray.
My nan was born in East London in around the 1920s. Her mother married a man with the surname ‘Cray’ and had her older sister before eventually re-marrying and having my nan. My great grandmother kept the girls’ names the same as it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ to remarry and change names back then.
We would sometimes ask my nan about the name and its ties to the famous gangsters, and she would always say quite abruptly “no, no, it’s spelled with a ‘C’ not a ‘K’.” I always thought that was strange as my nan was quite the gossip and this was very unlike her not to elaborate.
About ten years ago my dad found her birth certificate in the loft with the spelling of ‘Kray’. The only other thing we know about her stepfather is he was run down by a taxi in New York.
I’d love to find out more information about this as it all seems very odd. A family secret that my nan seems to have kept even from her own family.
No true Scotsman.
My ancestor lived in Scotland and belonged to a noble family. The family had a castle and were, as you’d expect when you own a castle, incredibly wealthy. For my ancestor, this wasn’t enough. One day his brother was out exploring the lands, doing whatever you did in 18th century Scotland. His brother’s wife remained in the castle while her husband was away.
My ancestor decides to get things started with his sister-in-law. His brother comes home, discovers his brother in bed with his wife and is outraged. He immediately calls a family meeting to discuss this.
As my ancestor has disgraced the family, so it’s decided that he should be exiled to Australia, never to set foot in the family castle again. Off he goes, given a fair whack of cash to ensure he can find his feet in Australia.
Several generations pass and here I am today, with the story still told at countless family gatherings.
The great escape.
He was born in Czechoslovakia to a Jewish mother and Catholic father and lived in Prague. When Germany took over Czechoslovakia in ’39 my grandfather got Catholic papers and joined the Hitler Youth. When he was old enough he became a merchant seaman. In June of ’41 or ’42 (I forget) he was unloading cargo in New York and fled. Family friends hid him for a while and he surfaced with a whole new identity.
My great uncle, who became a Catholic priest at a young age, came out to his parents as an atheist while in seminary. They threatened to disown him if he ever told anyone else, or if he left the seminary. So he stayed, became an excellent priest, and apparently never told anyone until my dad asked him for advice when he was considering the priesthood as well. He swore my dad to secrecy until he (my great-uncle) was dead because he was afraid of the impact it would have on his congregation if they found out.
I discovered all this about a year and a half ago when my dad was extremely drunk and ranting against religion. Completely shook my view of my great-uncle and great-grandparents; they always sounded like the model family, and my uncle was an amazingly peaceful and humble man. If anything I think it made me respect him more, in the end.
We had a family Christmas dinner a few years ago where my aunt and uncles from both sides were staying over at our house. There were probably 10 or 11 of us at the dinner table, and everyone is getting along well like we always do. My cousin, around 14 or 15 at the time, brings up something about how he laid a massive poop earlier that day. The kids laugh and the adults were like “that’s not table conversation.” Then I jump in and say “yeah, there are things we don’t talk at the dinner table, like politics and illegitimate children.”
Every adult at the table drops their eyes to their plate and goes silent.
What I didn’t know was that my uncle had an illegitimate child many years ago and that’s always been a point of contention between my aunt and him. They also had been arguing about that earlier in the day, and all the adults knew it. Seriously though, never make jokes about illegitimate children unless you are absolutely sure nobody has one.
“A little off…”
My mom married my stepfather in the mid-80s. My mom and dad had been divorced since my birth in the early 70s. So, living primarily with my mom, she would, of course, go out on dates, and eventually, I would get the boyfriend introduction which usually went well. But with my soon-to-be stepfather, I always knew there was something a little off.
Couldn’t ever really pin down what it was, but he was just off, if ever so slightly. But hey, my mom really liked this guy, so I was in. Made my way through some awkward teenage years with him, and off to college. Still, I felt like I was missing something with him.
Then, in 1997, and my mom and stepdad divorce. Towards the end, he would grow very impatient and I guess they would fight a lot, but I wasn’t around to see it as I had long since moved out and had my own life to lead in a different state. Didn’t ever hear him come up much in conversation after that.
Now, fast forward to 2007. My mom, unfortunately, had cancer and it was nearing the end of her life. I spent the last two weeks with her at her house, just talking and letting her know how much I loved her. For those that have never seen a loved one pass away from cancer, it’s not very pleasant. They tend to get a little loopy, forgetful and generally speaking, aren’t 100% with it.
So, sitting on the couch next to her on one of these days, she exclaims, “Well, I suppose I can tell you about your stepfather now.” I perked right up. I knew something was off about him! Maybe he went AWOL from the Army? Maybe he had a kid I didn’t know about? She continued: “Your stepfather was a gay porn star in the 70s.” Not what I had expected.
My grandad made hundreds of millions through his business and investments by the time he died. Most of it though only happened a few years before he passed. He never got on well with the rest of the family apart from my parents.
As a result, he left everything to charity in his will. Of course, the family weren’t happy about this and wanted to get rich from his hard work, so they lawyerd up and fought for years to get the money. Unfortunately, they eventually won (not all of it but most), taking millions from needy charities and spending it on houses, cars, holidays and gambling. Lots and lots of gambling.
Needless to say, we don’t talk to that part of the family.
My family was apparently millionaires in the late 1800s. I guess they had always been very wealthy. But between that wealth getting split up every generation and my family living on the run for many generations, all that money was gone by the time I came around.
The only thing left was a chunk of property in Mexico that is completely worthless aside from a small bit of money from it cause there’s a highway going through it.
This totally shocked me because in my lifetime my family has been quite poor. Full-blown redneck in the face.
Tailor, tinker, soldier, spy?
I believe my grandfather held plenty of secrets, but he took them to the grave.
My grandfather was involved in WWII and the Cold War. He always said that only ever worked desk jobs. He claimed to have been a resource officer (basically the guy who does the paycheques) since he was an accountant.
But inexplicably, he was also an incredible shot with a rifle and spoke fluent Russian (though he would rarely admit it).
Make of that what you will.
Hungry hungry hypocrites.
I didn’t find out until recently, in my thirties. So at this age pretty much nothing shocks you. But it would have shocked me in my teens, when my mother was super religious, warning us against premarital sex.
In my early twenties, she tried to stop my girlfriend and me from living together when we moved to a city where we knew no one. (Obviously, we lived together. But we had to hide it from her when she came to visit.) When some unmarried friends of mine had a baby unexpectedly, and the child was born with a physical handicap, she even insinuated to me that it was a punishment from God for having a baby out of wedlock.
So guess what… a few months ago, my aunt mentioned in passing that the reason my parents got married after only knowing each other for four months was because my mother was pregnant. (She ended up miscarrying, which is why we’d never figured it out before.)
Note: Comments have been edited for clarity.