I have always felt that a branch of my family had secrets locked away, maybe a bit of bigamy or criminal past, something juicy to get my teeth into, a bit of a joke really. But there is that saying ‘be careful what you wish for’. Over the last few years, I have been researching a family that I never really knew. My dad had distanced himself from his ancestors and therefore I only had snippets of information and very distant memories. The family appeared on the one hand to have quite a bohemian lifestyle and yet there were strong underlying religious undertones.
As I discovered family members around the globe it became apparent that the whole family appeared to fragment for various reasons, and yet there was this ever present lynch pin, the eldest daughter, who seemed to crop up in any discussions related to family history, ‘Aunty Mary said….this’, ‘Aunty Mary said that…’ otherwise the brothers more or less got on with their lives, with or without their wives and children.
However in contact with a cousin a comment was made regarding one of the brothers. It was suggested that he took ‘an unhealthy interest in little girls’. This stuck in my head. There are family photographs that he took of me in my party frock, but nothing untoward, so whilst it remained niggling I did not think more of it. Then the day came when a chance introduction to another member of the family revealed the whole sorry tale. This man, Tom, was a paedophile. I will not go into detail, but he abused members of his own family, and who knows who else could have been affected.
I was not sure whether I should share this information with my mother, but in the end I felt that I should tell her about my discovery. She burst into tears and told me of the relief she now felt as she had banned this man from visiting the house when I was a small child, due to the discomfort she felt during his visits. She felt, at the time and for many years, that this had alienated further my father from his relatives; now she felt right in her decision and felt a huge sense of relief.
She had wanted to throw out any photos that she knew this man had taken, but in an innocent world they were nice photos. After many assertions that I had no memory of anything untoward occurring and reinforcing this by relaying memories I did have of that time, I then began to doubt myself and I realised how easy it is to plant enough seeds of doubt to induce false memories. But I am relatively stable in character and know that nothing happened, but I am thankful to my mother and her intuition.
However, following this bombshell, I decided to delve a little deeper. It was only when discussing this man with the relative who had suffered the abuse, that a little alarm bell started ringing in my ear. I had never questioned it before, but his ‘mother’ would have been 47 when she had given birth and yet Aunty Mary would have been 21. My cousin had said that her grandmother had always been vague about her birth year, this could have possibly been to hide the fact that she had been conceived out of wedlock and shortly after her father’s first wife had died. So many skeletons were now tumbling out of the closet, I was finding it hard to keep track. But the GRO were quick to send Tom’s birth certificate and there was another surprise, Tom was actually Mary’s illegitimate son and her mother and father had adopted him at birth. With misgivings, I relayed this information to my relation. I was surprised by her response as she now felt that this information explained a lot regarding her grandmother’s relationship with Tom and how she and his adopted mother covered up and shielded him so much in relation to his behaviour. She now felt further empowered over what had happened to her, so many years before.
With this information we can only guess at events surrounding the family and their relationships. It would appear that either Mary’s brothers were unaware of Tom’s parentage or it was not spoken of, as it was always thought that he was their brother. My relative has assured me that she believes that the brothers had no knowledge of what was happening at the time of her abuse. There always appeared to be a story that would explain the fragmentation of the family, but how much was known about Tom and what was its contribution to following events? Perhaps the thing that most troubles me is wondering whether my father was aware of what happened. He was a man of great integrity so I imagine not, but I do wonder if he too suffered at the hands of this man from a few things my mother has since told me.
So, whilst in flights of fancy I thought it would be interesting to find a ‘skeleton’ somewhere in the family, from experience I can say that uncovering such a secret in such close family, for me, has been unpleasant and unnerving, and yet the reaction from those close to the secret has achieved positive outcomes and in a small way, my interest in family history has contributed to this. Some secrets go to the grave with an ancestor but in some cases they can be partially unlocked, leaving you with so many more questions than answers.
Names in this article have been changed.
© bubblebelle 2010