Author Topic: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy  (Read 880 times)

Offline ladyk

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Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« on: Thursday 12 November 20 12:47 GMT (UK) »
Hi all - I have a friend who I got to talking with about family history. I have some ancestors with his surname, I'll say it's Handley, and both families are of English origin, so I asked him if I could build out his tree and see if I could find a common ancestor. He agreed and I did that.

I didn't find common ancestors, so I set it aside and we sort of lost touch for about 2-3 years after that. We recently re-connected and I pulled up his tree again. This time I noticed that his grandmother, we'll call her Celia Bellows, was only 15 when she had his father (in 1931) and she was unmarried at the time. She married three yrs later. Her son has her husband's name, Handley.

I thought it was unlikely that she had an illegitimate child, then married the father three yrs later. I suspected that Mr Handley adopted her son, or else they just changed his name to Handley. I launched a search for Handley Jr's birth record, this is my friend's father, let's say his name is Jonah Handley. Nothing came up under that name in the city where he was born. However, I did find a child born 1931 named Jonah Bellows, and Bellows was the mother's maiden name. Unfortunately it was just a birth index record, so it didn't give month and day of birth or any parents' names. But, if Jonah Handley had been born that year as well, it would have been right there in that same birth index and it wasn't.

I picked the name Jonah because it is an unusual name, and the name of my friend's Dad is also fairly uncommon. On a whim, I wondered if she had named her son's first name after the bio Dad. I did a search for anyone named Jonah, age within 5 yrs of the Mom's birth year, who lived in that city in 1930. I found one Jonah Timms, born same year as the Mom and living only about a mile from her home location in the 1930 census. Could this be the bio Dad?

I have not said anything to my friend about this. I wasn't sure if he knew about his grandmother having his Dad out of wedlock at age 15 or not, so I didn't mention it. Just today we were talking and he said "well, you know, I'm half English on the Handley side". So, he believes he's a bio Handley, which he may be, if the man his grandmother Bellows married was the father of the child she had three yrs prior. I just find that unlikely. He may be a Timms!

My question is, am I right not to say anything to my friend about this? I know that if it were me, I'd want to be told, but that's me. Some people definitely would NOT want to be told. I thought about cajoling him into doing a dna test, because then the truth would come out without me having to say anything, but he probably wouldn't be interested in doing that.

I don't believe I'd be able to prove my theory without dna confirmation, because 1930's is too recent for me to be able to acquire a birth certificate or any adoption or name change court records without being a family member. He could probably get that info, but I can't. Since I don't know for sure, I think I should keep it to myself for now. But something niggles at me, because as I said, if it was me, I'd want to know that there was this question there.

What would you want if you were my friend? What would you do if you were me?

Kat
Scotland: Reid

Offline Albufera32

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #1 on: Thursday 12 November 20 13:06 GMT (UK) »
As you point out, you would want to know.

But of course the fact that you want to know about things like that is why you have a family tree and spend time researching it.

From what you say, I am assuming your friend does not have their own family tree, which fairly strongly suggests they aren't that interested, and are probably perfectly happy not knowing.

Instead of asking yourself "Am I right not to say anything?" try asking yourself the opposite question, "Do I have a right to force them to face something they (probably) don't want to know?"
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Offline brigidmac

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #2 on: Thursday 12 November 20 13:19 GMT (UK) »
I agree with albufera
Tho my derective instincts would want to find out and prove my story

Very hard to call .
You could always test the water by telling them a rootschat.or ancestry  Story about someone whose father wasnt who they thought and  see how they react .

Its the same if you find half siblings the other person didnt know they had .

What if your theory is wrong and the child her father was given a biblical name for a totally different reason .Theres also the added  uncomfortable truth being revealed to the."Timms" family
Leave it for the next generation to discover
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Offline PrawnCocktail

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #3 on: Thursday 12 November 20 13:31 GMT (UK) »
I have a friend who several years ago happened to mention that there was a family secret but that she  didn't know what it was! Being a genealogist, I immediately thought of illegitimacy, and had a quick look at what I could find, and sure enough, her mother was illegitimate. I didn't tell her, because she wasn't asking.

Several years later, she came and asked me if I could find anything. So I had another look, and drew up a family tree. Not only her mother, but one of her aunts turned out to be illegitimate, but it was obvious from the records that both girls had the same father, and that her granny had married the man who was their father.

When I presented her with the results of my search, I gave her the facts, and left her to draw her own conclusions, which took her less than a minute! Her sadness was for her mother, who had felt compelled to hide the secret of her birth all her life, but she was relieved to see the secret cleared up.

For her, it changed nothing, because her grandfather was still who she thought he was.

But for your friend, it could change a great deal, so unless he is asking, or there's a genetic disease somewhere in the picture, I would say nothing.
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Online Roobarb

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #4 on: Thursday 12 November 20 13:41 GMT (UK) »
Ladyk, if I were you I wouldn't tell your friend ..... at the moment. Perhaps you could talk about family history in general and make some comment that it's amazing how many illegitimate births come up in people's research. Do you have anyone in your own tree that was illegitimate that you could talk about? I don't mean opening the conversation with this, just in the middle of general family history chat. That might give you an idea how your friend would feel about it and you could reassess as you go along.

I'm not sure how I'd feel about being on the receiving end of such information. When it goes back several generations it doesn't shock me, in act it adds colour to my research, but when it's closer than that it might not feel that way.
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Offline lizdb

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #5 on: Thursday 12 November 20 13:48 GMT (UK) »
You say you are in contact again. Is he asking about any progress re Family History research?  If so tell him what you have facts for, but not what you "suspect".
We never know the fathers of illegitimate children unless the mother leaves some sort of written record naming the father, and it is not fair to anyone to "name" someone as a father of an illegitimate child without such documentation to back up a suspicion . A child may be called after a friend who was particularly helpful during a difficult time, after a favourite uncle,  or just a name that the mother heard and liked, it may not be because it is named after the father.
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Offline ladyk

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #6 on: Thursday 12 November 20 14:51 GMT (UK) »
You say you are in contact again. Is he asking about any progress re Family History research?  If so tell him what you have facts for, but not what you "suspect".
We never know the fathers of illegitimate children unless the mother leaves some sort of written record naming the father, and it is not fair to anyone to "name" someone as a father of an illegitimate child without such documentation to back up a suspicion . A child may be called after a friend who was particularly helpful during a difficult time, after a favourite uncle,  or just a name that the mother heard and liked, it may not be because it is named after the father.

Oh, lizdb, I know that about the naming! That's why I said I did it on a whim, more out of my own curiosity, I would never suggest to him, even if he asked me about this situation, that I had an idea who the father might have been, just based on my surface sleuthing! That would be left to dna results, if anything, unless, as you said, I had some form of corroborating record, such as a birth certificate.

We have talked about the tree since we've been back in touch, because I told him I was going to check again to see if we had common ancestors. He is interested in his family history, but not so much that he has a tree of his own. He is not real good with his computer skills and may not think that he could manage tree building, etc.

My instinct is not to say anything, of course. My penchant for solving genealogical mysteries makes me wish at least I could resolve it! Frustrating, but can't do anything about it.

Kat

Scotland: Reid

Offline ladyk

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #7 on: Thursday 12 November 20 14:54 GMT (UK) »
Ladyk, if I were you I wouldn't tell your friend ..... at the moment. Perhaps you could talk about family history in general and make some comment that it's amazing how many illegitimate births come up in people's research. Do you have anyone in your own tree that was illegitimate that you could talk about? I don't mean opening the conversation with this, just in the middle of general family history chat. That might give you an idea how your friend would feel about it and you could reassess as you go along.

I'm not sure how I'd feel about being on the receiving end of such information. When it goes back several generations it doesn't shock me, in act it adds colour to my research, but when it's closer than that it might not feel that way.

That's a good idea, Roobarb. In fact I have a great story of a friend of mine who discovered her bio father was the guy who lived across the hall from her family in their apartment building! Maybe I could just tell him that story and see how he reacts. Of course, I still would not tell him anything unless he said something definitive like "oh, if that were my family, I would really want to know the truth", which he's not likely to say. But it might give me an idea how he feels about it, at least.

Kat
Scotland: Reid

Offline ladyk

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Re: Ethical Question About Finding Illegitimacy
« Reply #8 on: Thursday 12 November 20 14:58 GMT (UK) »
As you point out, you would want to know.

But of course the fact that you want to know about things like that is why you have a family tree and spend time researching it.

From what you say, I am assuming your friend does not have their own family tree, which fairly strongly suggests they aren't that interested, and are probably perfectly happy not knowing.

Instead of asking yourself "Am I right not to say anything?" try asking yourself the opposite question, "Do I have a right to force them to face something they (probably) don't want to know?"
That is my instinct, not to tell. Just wish I could figure it out for myself!
Kat
Scotland: Reid