Recently, we wrote about family secrets people found out about when they were older, and in response, the BuzzFeed Community shared some of their own family secrets. Here are 35 wild, disturbing, and shocking things people discovered about their family and its history.
NOTE: There are mentions of murder, drugs, and sexual assault.
1. "My great-grandfather apparently had a child with a mistress in another state when he was living and working there. During an alcoholic blackout he flew into a blind rage and shot and killed the mistress, then lived in the house with her body and his young child for a week. Then he took the child back to his other family’s home and shot and killed himself in the basement in front of the child. So horrific and awful for that poor child. No one in the family ever talks about it. I only discovered this in passing."
2. "My ex-husband’s family had an ... 'open' family secret: my ex-husband’s grandfather (Hank) was married to ex-husband’s grandmother (Pearl) and they had six children together, but Hank also had a years-long affair with Pearl’s sister Sweetie, fathering all of her seven children as well, all of the children being born during the same time frame. Therefore all 13 of those kids were half-siblings as well as first cousins! And Pearl (the wife) was fully aware her husband was sleeping with her sister and that all of her nieces and nephews were fathered by her husband! All of the kids (both legitimate and otherwise) were also aware that Hank was 'Daddy' to them all. Huge arguments over whose Mom got done the dirtiest and who Hank loved more happened as the kids got older."
"Pearl’s kids had Hank’s last name and Sweetie’s kids had her last name as she never married. Hank fathered another eight children by some other woman as well. He went by the nickname 'Lovin’ Hank' because of this whole mess."
3. "My great aunt couldn’t have children of her own. She and her husband wanted a baby and one day my great grandpa turned up with a baby — turns out he was sort of a mobster and did not get my uncle In a particularly legal way."
4. "My ex-boyfriend’s mom passed away a few months after he was born and I find out years after we broke up that he is actually my half-brother. My father had an affair with his mother and got her pregnant with my ex-boyfriend. I found this out by going through some of my dad’s things in the attic. There were love letters revealing their secret relationship. I can’t believe I was in a relationship with my half-brother."
5. "A few years ago, my dad found out at the age of 70 that his dad is not actually his biological father. His bio-dad was actually a serial rapist. He also has 30+ half-siblings."
6. "When I was a young child, my dad was a drug mule. My parents separated when I was too young to remember. Looking back at my childhood, I pieced together various memories of my dad’s behavior/lifestyle that were suspicious. I’d say the major example was him traveling for 'work' to Mexico and the neighboring states along the border a few times a year. But he held no other employment. Wouldn’t tell me what his 'job' was either. Then as a young adult, I was told the story of my cousin’s dad (whom I never met). He died in prison while serving a life sentence for slinging back in the '80s. A bunch of other little stuff just started to add up — my dad never kept a car for a few months at a time. He either had money to burn or was dead broke. Someone even tried to break into his house once. I’m in my late thirties now. I asked my mom flat out if my dad was a drug dealer. She laughed out loud and said, 'No — he was just a mule!'"
7. "When I was about 10, I remember my dad suddenly going into a very deep depression. He would stay in bed for days at a time, cry often, and was having a therapist come to the house. He eventually recovered and went back to being the dad I remember. I never knew what happened, but about 30 years later, my uncle (my dad’s brother) told me. My dad was driving home from work one day, and a child ran out in the middle of the street. My dad hit him and killed him. The boys’ mother, who saw the whole thing, was quick to admit that there was nothing my dad could’ve done. The police investigated, and cleared him of any wrongdoing. To this day, my dad doesn’t know that I know, and I plan on keeping it that way."
8. "I had a secret brother (and a couple other secret siblings). We were only told about the brother when I went into middle school because my mom forced our dad. She was afraid we'd meet and start dating without knowing. He'd been in school with us since elementary school."
9. "My uncles’s wife took her one year old baby into the woods and left her to die. She got away with it. Now the whole family has suffered because of this."
10. "I found out over Thanksgiving that my grandmother, who started working as a nurse at 14 in rural Puerto Rico, once treated a patient who had just had a baby. For reasons that aren’t clear to me, she didn’t want the baby. My grandma asked if she could take the baby home to raise and the patient agreed. My great-grandmother raised the baby to adulthood and my mom and her siblings saw her as an aunt. I’ve never met this woman and didn’t know she existed until 2022. I’m forty. There was plenty of time to share this information."
11. "My mother’s mom was a sex worker and never told us who our grandfather was. I don’t have a problem with sex work, but I do have a problem with the fact that she stole my mother’s morphine to get high while my mom was dying of cancer. Nobody told me when she died, I found out from a backhanded remark my dad made years after. As far as I’m concerned, she can rot in hell. She was so toxic that my aunt cut off all contact with the family as soon as she turned 18, and no one knows what happened to her."
12. "My parents were separated for a while between having my older siblings and me and my little sister. During that time my dad got another woman pregnant. My dad signed over his parental rights to that woman’s future husband. My siblings and I knew we had a half-sister for years but were told not to say anything or try to look for her in case she hadn’t been told. Well, it was 2010 and I was in college when she finally contacted my dad. Her parents didn’t tell her that her dad wasn’t biological until her 21st birthday. Now it’s 13 years later and I occasionally see her at our kids' birthday parties, etc."
"What’s even more sad to me is that her family makes jokes on her behalf in front of lots of people. Someone will ask who I am at the party and her mom will say, 'Oh that’s her sister, you know, the daughter of the man that didn’t want her.' So screwed up."
13. There's an actual axe murderer in my family tree. The legend goes, back in the 1800s a fifty-something farmhand [in my family line] ... fell in love with the farmer's 16-year-old daughter. Daughter spurned the man's advances, so he killed her with an axe one night. I can't remember, but I think one of her parents was also killed that night."
14. "My mom passed April of 2020. Well. Really traumatic events tend to unearth really dark secrets. To give context: my mom has two sisters. I'm close to one (we'll call her Jane) a woman who never dated/never married. My other aunt 'Carol' was married to my uncle 'Jack' for 30 years, with three kids."
"So, my childhood involved spending every single Sunday with all of them (think very Christian/Conservative vibes). Well. 'Jane' asked me to meet her one night months later, and she asked, point blank, if my Uncle had ever attacked me. I almost fell off my damn chair. WELL. It came out that he attacked Jane nearly 30 years ago when she was a teenager and sexually assaulted her. She was ashamed and never said anything to anyone, and only asked me if it happened to me because my cousin (Carol and Jack's daughter) told her that Jack sexually assaulted her a few years before, when she was 19. So, my uncle sexually assaulted my aunt when she was a teenager, and attacked my cousin, his own daughter, at the exact same age."
15. "My uncle was murdered in Philadelphia in 1981 when I was eight. The story was always that they never found the person. Years later, I started watching a lot of unsolved murder stories and decided to dig into my uncle's murder. Turns out, it was solved and the murderer was his male lover. He said he murdered him because my uncle had an affair. To this day, my mother does not know that I know the circumstances behind his murder."
16. "I found out I had a half brother as an adult. He attended my wedding without me knowing about it. I later watched my wedding video and saw him in the back of the church. My mom was upset at my wedding and I never knew why."
17. "After my parents divorced, I found out my dad had been having an affair for four years. EVERYONE knew about it. And by everyone, I mean my mom, my sister and everyone I was close to at the church I went to. Honestly the only reason I probably found out was because after my mom told my sister and me they were separating, I asked where he was moving to (figuring he'd go to his dad's until he got a place of his own). That's when the truth came out, since my mom had to say he was moving in with his girlfriend."
18. "My half-sister (through our mom) found out when she was 50 that the man who had raised her was not her biological father. Both her dad and bio dad were dead and our mother refused to discuss it. It threw us all into a tailspin — was my Dad my bio Dad or was my mother a complete liar? My half sister has never recovered — she suspects that she had met her bio dad when he would visit the restaurant she worked at but he never introduced himself. Mom said that she had told her ex on the courtroom steps that my sister wasn't his daughter (she was three at the time), but we will never know if that's true either. It's the doubt that kills her."
19. "When I was in grade school, my aunt (who's a few years older than me) came to live with us. I was told it was because there were better schools where we lived. My mom was a single mom with no financial help at all for my sister and I. She worked 2-3 jobs to support us. My aunt was in middle school when she came to live with us. She stayed until graduating high school. I found out when I was maybe 24 years old that my grandmother was in the federal penitentiary for fraud. Explains why my mother took her in so she wouldn't end up in foster care. Mind you, I had two grown uncles that could've helped my mother financially take care of their shared little sister, but didn't."
"My mother is a saint. She absolutely doesn't get the respect she deserves from my family. With that being said, my grandmother was a terrible mother to my mom and her siblings. TERRIBLE! And yet, my mom stepped in to help and to this day is the only one taking care of my elderly grandmother. There is a special place in heaven for my mom one day."
20. "Mental illness runs rampant in my family, but many of my family members hold deep stigmas against therapy, medication and authenticity. I found out a few years ago that one of my grandmothers was hospitalized for a breakdown when my dad was 16. The other was diagnosed (not sure with what) and was recommended to an institution by a psychiatrist at a young age after locking her sister in a cabinet and leaving her there for hours. I learned all of this in my early thirties after years of therapy, a hospitalization, medication, and being shunned from my family for 'airing our dirty laundry' by seeking help."
"Learning that and discussing it with my psychiatrist got a diagnosis of Medication Resistant Major Depressive Disorder and has changed the types of therapy I receive. I'm 34 now, and I feel like I'm doing better than I had for years. Also, I was sexually assaulted in my early 20s. When I reached out to my Mom for support she said, 'you should have known better.' I bottled up the trauma for years. About a year ago, my Mom snapped at me with a hard 'No!' When I asked if she'd ever been sexually abused. It shocked me, so I gently pressed. She said she had been raped by my uncle-in-law when my brothers were young. She had only ever told my aunt, whom I have no relationship with, but my mom is codependent with. I confronted her and asked why she didn't think that information might have been helpful when I was assaulted. She just said "I planned on taking it to my grave." This led to some other discussions about my mental health (and hers and my family's). I am now low to no-contact with all of my bio family. It's nice to finally focus on myself, my little family, and my mental health without having to constantly defend or explain my choices for care."
21. "My grandmother once told me about why my great aunt was special needs. She had dyscalculia and a few other learning disabilities. Her mother tried to have an abortion by drinking turpentine. Please understand that this was in the early forties. It would have been her sixth kid, and her husband was on the income of a superintendent in rural Oklahoma."
"He was actually asked by the state of Oklahoma to write a book for students with dyscalculia and other learning disabilities as well as those that struggled with basic math concepts. This was in the 1950s. He was also one of the only superintendents in the state of Oklahoma that allowed his special needs students to graduate and walk at graduation. I told my mother when I found out, and she was surprised. My grandmother is the keeper for a lot of secrets about our family, and I know a great deal of them because I am the family genealogist, and she wants us to know in order to prevent us from making the same mistakes in our family."
22. "Growing up I never understood why my grandfather never talked to my auntie or my cousins. ... My dad only told me the truth a few years ago. My grandfather was born in Hiroshima in 1939, but his family moved to Tokyo. In 1945 when the US bombed Hiroshima, my grandfather's parents were in the city visiting relatives while him and his younger brother were being babysat by neighbors [back in Tokyo]. Because of that, my Grandfather and his brother became orphans. So when my Aunt married an American and moved to the US, my grandfather felt betrayed I suppose. He still loves my auntie but he still can’t look at my uncle or cousins without thinking of his parents."
23. "When my maternal grandmother was in end stage dementia, she kept talking about her baby and how guilty she felt. None of us had any idea what she was talking about. Finally, in one of her more lucid moments, she begged for her preacher to come in and she told us she had an affair back in the 1950s with a married man and got pregnant. She went somewhere and had an illegal abortion. During the time she was gone getting the abortion, she told her family that she had cervical cancer and was getting treatment."
24. "I haven’t seen my step-grandpa in YEARS. Turns out, not only was he a registered sex offender, he ran away with my uncle's wife after having sex with my uncle."
25. "My mom divorced my dad when I was eight. My dad, who did not care for me in the slightest and didn’t want me in the first place, fought for full custody to torture my mom. He fought her on everything and dragged the process on for three years before my mom won residential custody. Three years she had to pay legal fees and take care of me herself without a dime of child support. I didn’t know until I was an adult. If anything, it very much solidifies my decision not to talk to my father."
26. "My dad and mom divorced when I was a toddler. My dad remarried and started another family. He didn’t tell his new kids that I even existed. I know about them, but I thought it was 'normal' to have siblings you never saw or spoke to. They found out about me by accident, and eventually — many years later as adults — we all tried to establish a relationship. I really wanted to be close to them all and for our kids to know each other."
"Sadly, there just wasn’t enough trust, emotional intelligence, or mutual commitment to authentic communication...and so a simple misunderstanding led to a destructive and devastatingly painful outcome."
27. "After my mom passed away, I found out that she had a baby at age 16 and my maternal grandmother raised him as her own, so I grew up thinking he was my uncle, but he was really my half-brother."
"And in 2019 I found out I have a Vietnamese sister my father fathered when he was in Vietnam — thus he cheated on my mom four months into his one year tenure there."
28. "I always knew I was adopted, but my adoptive family went to some pretty ridiculous lengths to hide that I was adopted from within my own family. They kept my bio-mom and me in separate areas at funerals, changed which photos they had displayed in their homes, made sure we never visited at the same time, and basically prevented any interaction at all. We look enough alike that it's obvious we're related. A judge even changed the city I was born in on my birth certificate and also wanted to change my birthday but my parents thought that was way too much. When I was in my early twenties I asked my parents if they could look into opening my adoption...which is when I learned my grandfather (who was an FBI agent) had arranged most of it. That's the short version."
29. "To this day I have no idea who my father is. My mom had a lot of mental health issues and lied a lot. She gave me a fake name for him very young. She said they were married but divorced before I was born because he was abusive. I have done ancestry and all I can see is that I have 450 relatives on his side, mostly all second and third cousins. I wonder often if I should keep looking for him. Knowing the company my mom kept, it would probably end up more terrible than good. The fact I don't see any other siblings, aunts or uncles, probably isn't a good sign. My heart has always hope he would love me and give me a better life than she did. Too late now."
30. "My older brother was my half brother. My mom had him with another guy out of wedlock. They was back in the 1950s — she met my dad when my stepbrother was six and they married two years later. Everyone in the family knew except for me and my middle brother. When my older brother married, he never told his wife. To this day, I'm not sure if she or their son ever discovered the truth."
31. "My cousin and my half-brother both sexually assaulted younger female siblings when they were kids and it got swept under the rug. Both the cousin and my half-brother are much older and I never really lived with them. I only learned of these assaults in my twenties after the cousin stayed with us for months when I was in middle school and my half-brother was living with us for over two years. He was already going through scary mental health issues, but I slept with my door locked from that point on."
32. "My mom was on Ancestry and saw that this random girl that she had never heard of shared very similar DNA. My mom reached out and they figured out the matching DNA came from her father. The girl had her dad (now in his mid-seventies) take a DNA test and it turns out he is my mom's half-brother. Apparently when my grandfather was on leave during World War 2 he had an affair with a married women and she got pregnant. We have no idea if my grandfather ever knew about this and the son (mom's half-brother) grew up thinking his dad was the man who was married to his mother. It's unclear if his mom even knew that her husband was not the father. My mom's half-niece wants to start a relationship with our family to learn more about her heritage. Wild."
33. "I found out in my teens a couple secrets. One of my aunt's mom's sisters had three boys. My cousin that was my age looked strikingly different from his siblings and anyone else. But genetics work in weird ways so anything is possible. My mom later let me know my aunt had an affair. She caught her husband in bed with another woman and enacted revenge by sleeping with a coworker and got pregnant. I don’t think my cousin ever knew and we are now middle-aged. My great uncle was a philanderer in his youth and had a baby with the next door neighbor. My aunt accepted the child and she’s always been a part of the family. Only thing is the neighbor was white while my uncle is Black and this was at a time he could’ve been killed for such a thing."
What family secret did you discover later in life? Let us know in the comments.
Submissions have been edited for length/clarity.