Hax: This genealogy research crossed the line

The Washington PostSeptember 12, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: Over the past few years, I have developed an interest in genealogy and putting together a detailed family tree for future generations. Everybody in my family seems to appreciate this, except my nephew’s new wife.

I wanted basic information on her parents and her birth. She gave me her information, but for her stepfather and mother. I asked for her biological father’s information a few times, but she would give me a neutral answer or my nephew would say, “We already gave you what we have.”

I decided just to look the information up myself, and it turns out her biological father is serving many life sentences for a violent crime.

She is a lovely girl, my nephew is very happy, and her mother and stepfather have been nothing but kind to our entire family. But now that I hold this information, I don’t know what to do with it.

Do I owe it to our family (and future generations) to have the truth? Or do I owe it to my nephew to keep this under wraps, since it is clearly what he wanted?

My husband thinks it was inappropriate of me to even look this up in the first place and refuses to talk about it.

GENEALOGY PROJECT GONE WRONG

You pressed “a few times” for information you knew this poor woman didn’t want to give you!? I’m with your husband. Wow.

This information dies with you, out of belated courtesy for your nephew’s wife. “Future generations” don’t need to know, unless they want to, in which case they can take the initiative to dig for themselves into the same public sources you did.

In the time you spend not telling anyone about this, consider asking yourself whether you’re as inconsiderate of clear boundaries in other areas of your life.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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