Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Challenging Moral Dilemma

The topic for the upcoming Carnival of Genealogy is:

"Moral or legal dilemmas in genealogy and genea-blogging, which ones have you had to deal with and how did you resolve them, if you did?"

The biggest legal dilemma in my short genea-blogging career was when that fellow who shall remain nameless (so that this post doesn't show up on Google) accused me of libelling him in my blog post. I resolved it (I hope!) by removing the offending words and apologizing - I haven't heard from him since.

The moral dilemma I want to discuss concerns the fact that I may have a half-sibling in central Massachusetts that I don't know the name of, or if s/he was born or lived into adulthood.

According to family lore (and we all know how reliable that is), my father left Leominster MA in December 1940 and drove across the country to San Diego "in order to escape a failed romance, and the girl was pregnant when he left." All of my father's sisters claimed the above is true but were short on the details (like if she had the baby and who the girl eventually married). His brother scoffs at the claim, saying that he would have known about it, and it didn't happen. My father's siblings are all deceased, and their children tell me what their parent told them. If the girl was my father's age, then she would by 95 now, and so she is probably deceased also.

We know the girl's name - Mary was a Catholic young lady whose father forbade a marriage to a Protestant young man (who converted to Catholicism at the time). I have looked at the 1930 census data to try to identify the young lady and her parents, without much luck - it's a fairly common Irish family surname.
The dilemmas I have include:

1) If Mary was pregnant and had a child, that child probably does not know about his/her genetic father. The child would be age 66 or so now.

2) If Mary married before the child was born, then the child thinks that her husband is his/her genetic father. The husband is probably deceased by now also. I don't know if Mary married or what happened to her.

3) If Mary had the child out of wedlock and gave the child up for adoption, then the child might be searching for his/her genetic parents.

4) If the child was male, then he would be a male descendant of Benjamin Seaver (1791-1825) (see my post about My Lonely Y-DNA Strand). If he had male children, then they would be the only ones carrying on the Y-DNA of my particular Seaver line.

5) If there were no child, or the child was aborted (highly unlikely, I think, in 1940 Massachusetts), then I would intrude on a family's dignity if I pursued this further.

I have been nibbling around the edges of this dilemma - looking for census records and newspaper articles in the Leominster area to see if I can find out more about Mary's family and if she married and had children. I think I have found her family in the 1930 census, and a marriage announcement in the newspaper in October 1942.

I did blog about this earlier, and gave Mary's surname, so if someone was curious about this, they could find me fairly quickly using a search engine.

I have anticipated a telephone call or an email from a possible step-sibling for some time. If I receive one, I will be happy to share details of my father's life with that person.

It is probable that many others have faced this dilemma from the different views - that of the child, that of the genetic parent, or that of the other children of the genetic parent.

I found out about this when my cousin Marcia was cleaning out her mother's things back in 1992 and ran across a picture of my father and Mary, and the writing on the back said "Fred and Mary, the girl he got pregnant" (or something similar). I have the photo in a box somewhere. Unfortunately, Marcia sent that to me in an unsealed envelope to my mother to give to me, and she opened it and saw the photo and the caption. She was very hurt (it was about 10 years after my dad died) and I never mentioned it again.

So what do you think I should do? Should I sit tight and hope that someone contacts me? Or should I hire a private detective in the Leominster area and have him/her turn over the town records and perhaps interfere in the lives of others? Or something in between those two extremes?

1 comment:

Questors said...


My first thought about your dilemma is that I would want to know if there was a child before I even thought about what to do if there was.
You say you have a possible family for Mary. Is she the one who married Timothy S. in 1942? Have you looked at her obit or that of her folks, etc?
~Sharon Elliott