Book Review: Family Secrets

This book on the “What’s new?” shelf  at the Central Auckland Research Centre caught my eye the other day  –  “Family Secrets: Living with shame from the Victorians to the Present Day” by Deborah Cohen.

The issues covered – divorce, illegitimacy, homosexuality, adoption, interracial children - barely raise an eyebrow today but they have been huge causes of distress in the past.

It’s a fascinating book to dip in to as it traces real people and gives an understanding as to why they did what they did – why adoptee parents feared their children finding out they were adopted,  the stories behind the “bachelor uncle”, the stigma of being a “bastard” child. A fascinating chapter is devoted to the children who disappeared – mentally disabled institutionalised boys and girls and how attitudes differed Victorian to early 20th century times.

The author concludes the book by discussing how getting all these “shameful” secrets out in the open has become something of a badge of honour, with the growing popularity of celebrity-featured entertainment shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?”  This is a book that may well provide breakthroughs for the family historian in the brick walls of their sleuthing - well worth a dip in to. "Family Secrets” is in the Research Centre under 4 GBR FAM but there are borrowable copies in the Auckland Libraries collection.


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