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.