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.
1. 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 old mate ancestor, this wasn’t enough. One day his brother was out exploring the lands, doing whatever you did in 18th century Scotland. His brothers wife remained in the castle while her husband was away.
Old mate 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 old mate 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.
2. White lie.
My sister died three years ago this October. I handled the entire affair and to preserve her appearance and memory I told my entire family she died because she drowned in the bathtub from passing out possibly due to health issues. She slumped forward and drowned because she passed out from an overdose.
3. Wrecking crew.
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.
4. 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.
5. “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. (continued…)
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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 then 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 jewellery she was given.
8. 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? Whats going on here? Im afraid I dont know. And I kind of dont want to know.
9. Charity cases.
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.
10. Babies on board.
My favourite 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.
11. 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. So. What to do? (continued…)
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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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Operation Paperclip.
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.
15. Faded aristocrats.
My family were 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.
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 face.
16. Tailor, tinker, soldier, spy?
I believe my grandfather held plenty of secrets, but he took them to the grave. (continued…)
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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.
17. 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.
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.
19. 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.
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.
21. 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, the TV remote and hit my sister straight in the eye. (continued…)
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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.
22. 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.
23. Witch hunt.
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 first born son of each generation bares his name. He’s actually depicted in The Crucible as well.
24. 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.