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.