Family Secrets

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Joyce Marfell Ochs

My mom - Joyce Marfell Ochs

Over the last week I’ve been fortunate to have received some correspondence shedding more light on a few unanswered questions in my adoptive family’s maternal tree. This is the second time that a family member has shared what had been a family “secret” or unknown fact with me on my mother’s side of the tree. My mother would have been scandalized, or would she? For I discovered shortly after she died, my mother held her own secret.

My mother was English on her father’s side and Polish on her mother’s. She was fiercely close to her father’s sister, Aunt Agnes, who had no children. Throughout her life she emphasized how completely moral and strict her father and his family were – a proper English family. She was very proud of this heritage.¬†Because my mother freely shared so very many memories with me from her life, I would at first think she had no idea about the past I have uncovered.

And perhaps she was completely unaware of the two stories I have been told – one happened in England many years before she was born. The other occurred in the decades leading up to her birth. Which makes me wonder if these events pushed her father and his sister to live such a strict, moral life and raise my mother with as many restrictions as possible.

This upbringing must have worked, because my mother seemed to have led a moral life herself completely dedicated to her husband and my brother and I. She also was obsessively strict with us. But she did take one secret to her grave.

Shortly after she died, I received all the family photos and documents. This along with my life-long obsession of tracing my tree was enough to encourage me to begin my genealogical journey through the past. As most suggest, I began with my parents trying to collect any information or documents I didn’t already have. One place I always look is school yearbooks. The problem was I could find my mom in every year but Senior year. Worried I was missing something, I contacted the school. They told me I could pick up a copy of her transcript that day. To my surprise I discovered she never graduated high school – she quit the day of her 16th birthday!

Needless to say, she never shared this with my brother or I. When I asked her brother about it, he said “she never wanted me to tell you.” But finding out this fact explained so very much about my relationship with her. I believe she loved me, but there was always an undertone of animosity towards me I could never quite figure out. And she had not been at all supportive of my pursuing a college education and encouraged me to quit several times. ¬†Now the pieces fell into place – she had almost failed every class she took while I frequently received outstanding grades.

As we begin our journey back through our trees, we might have some preconceived notions about what we will find. What I’ve realized by tracing all trees – adoptive and birth family and those related now through marriage – is that what we expect is often not what we discover. And sometimes if only we had shared a little more while everyone was alive we could have better understood each other and improved our relationships with our loved ones.

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