How should I deal with a family secret that directly affects a full branch on the family tree?

For example, there are two brothers, both married and both have kids. Brother A is the father of his kids with his wife. Brother A is also the father of brother B's kids with brother B's wife.

In this example none of the kids know the truth.

How do I keep my tree accurate without causing a family (now 3 generations in size) to fall apart.

The bothers have passed away and only the wife of brother B is still alive.

  • Whether your example is an example of a family secret depends on how you know. You could perhaps improve the example by making it clear that the father told you in confidence. Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 16:43

6 Answers 6


First rule of security: if you want to keep a secret, don't tell anyone.

If you feel that you must record this information and still would like to share the tree with others, you might want to keep two copies of the tree. Of course now you've doubled your maintenance effort.


This is a specific example of a broader question of an individual privacy, which also applies to living individuals. I think this is an area where genealogy software falls short. I would like to know if any software handles sensitive information in a more efficient manner.

On another thought, what is the source of the information of one brother fathering the other brother's children? Is it noted on the birth certificates or some other official document? As all information should be related to the source documents, maybe you could build one tree from official documents and one with the other source. The "correct" one will be the officially documented one. It would be good to keep the other one, assuming the source can be trusted, for medical reasons should any of the descendants need it.

Last thought, if this information is true, do not let it die. In my wife's family there are some family secrets that people took to their grave which has been a great detriment to the family history. We all have things that our ancestors did that we may not be proud of but at some point people are removed enough to accept their ancestors objectively.

  • 1
    +1 for questioning the source of the information.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:42
  • 1
    Additionally, what if it is a family secret, but unknown to the researcher as being a family secret? I have actual minimal contact with other branches from my grandfather's side, thus would not know of any 'secrets'. The secret could be out, unintentionally.
    – Those Legs
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 6:47
  • @ThoseLegs Good point! Sensitivity is personal, isn't it. Ha! Even better that someone with the code name "those legs" would point this out.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 19:55

My first choice would be to only include the public side of the tree in your tree. Don't be the one to be the revealer of the truth. You'll be blackballed from the family, and it's not worth it.

If you must save that information, keep it very very private somewhere. If anyone finds it, even a close family member, you may be in deep trouble.

If you can, leave it to your memory. And when you are old and grey, and the mood is right, maybe you can pass on the "forbidden" tales to some descendants - and they might then follow up the paper trail and fill in the research for you.

  • I think you should replace "child pornography" with a less startling comparison.
    – user47
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:10
  • @JustinY - What would you suggest?
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:15
  • I don't know. You could just remove it all together without losing anything. I suggest that because it completely threw me off track when I read it. My first thought was, "What's like child pornograpy?!?!?!?!"
    – user47
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:17
  • @JustinY - deleted. If you want, we could delete our 4 comments here. They are sort of "meta".
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:23
  • +1 for the oft' practical reality, "You'll be blackballed..."
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:41

That's a tricky one.

A clean solution would be to mark the brothers that have deceased as still 'living' (or use a similar tag mechanism in your software) to exclude them from an export. Only ever distribute a tree with these persons missing.

This is unlikely to stand up to much scrutiny.


You clearly need to hide the link and all half-sibling connections. You could keep the fake truth in the tree layout but add a private note which would not be published to state the truth.

It's perhaps important to add a visible note somewhere on anything you publish to say there is important private information also available - you wouldn't want the truth to be overlooked in many decades time.


Secrets hurt! They can be devastating as I know first hand. I feel it is best to tell all so there are no more secrets about who their parents are. From the beginning of time things like this have occurred. There should be no more shame. However, not all things need to be told such as the more personal details behind the occurrence. Essentially, everyone needs to know their birth rights.

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