Ask Amy: A Longtime Family Secret

By Amy Dickinson | August 12th, 2020

After discovering deathbed family knowledge, should this cousin also take it to her grave?


Senior woman knows family secret Image

Dear Amy: My 90-year-old mom died recently, and right before she died, she told us that her deceased sister had had a baby out of wedlock when she was a teen.

I had my DNA tested, and I looked into this. Sure enough, I found my new first cousin.

My question is: Should I tell my three cousins that they have a half-sister?

My husband says no, because my aunt took the secret to her grave for a reason and he thinks it will change their opinion of their mother.

But I think that if I had a half-sibling, I would sure like to know about it.

What do you think I should do?

— In the Know

Dear In the Know: Your aunt took this secret to her grave.

Your mother took this secret almost to her grave.

Why don’t you speed up the trajectory and take this secret now to its rightful holders — your cousins?

Family secrets are so insidious; please don’t perpetuate this.

Even though there has been a stigma attached to teen pregnancy (certainly in your aunt’s generation), please, don’t attach shame to this. Your aunt went through a rough experience. You could assume that she paid dearly for it.

Yes, this will change your cousins’ opinion of their mother, but, quite possibly, in a positive way. Knowing the truth should deepen their compassion for her. It may also answer some lingering questions they have had.

You cannot predict how your cousins will react. You should move forward with the understanding that you do not have the right to hold onto a secret that affects them, possibly in profound ways. Basically, you need only ask yourself how you would feel if other family members knew something so large and important about your mother’s life, and failed to tell you.


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In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

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