Oprah’s Family History Secret

Oprah Win­frey announced on her show today that she has a long-lost half sister.

Her mother left this daugh­ter at the hos­pi­tal when she was born, in 1963. The daugh­ter grew up in fos­ter homes, and even­tu­ally won­dered about her birth fam­ily. After two attempts to con­tact her birth mother, Oprah’s newly revealed half-sister found out who this woman was, and got in touch with Oprah. When Oprah con­fronted her mother, she at first denied it, and then she said, accord­ing to Oprah, “Yes, I think it’s true.” The rela­tion­ship has since been proved by DNA testing.

While I am glad for Oprah and her new sis­ter, to have the gift of finally being able to get to know one another, I am amazed at the choices Oprah’s mother made. First, it must have been painful to give up a child, and she must have felt deep shame to keep this a secret through all these years of Oprah’s suc­cess. And finally, to have this child know her fam­ily despite all the attempts to deny her exis­tence and their relationship.

For geneal­o­gists, these kinds of denials have always pre­sented a prob­lem, espe­cially in areas such as adop­tion, where con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous doc­u­men­ta­tion may be dif­fi­cult to come by. DNA match­ing can help fill in gaps where doc­u­men­ta­tion or denial sow doubt or out­right obfuscation.

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