Oprah's Family Secret (2023)

Oprah's Family Secret (1)

For the most part, Oprah's life has been an open book. "I think I've seen it all and heard all the stories," she says. "I thought nothing could surprise me more. But let me tell you, I was wrong."

Just before Thanksgiving 2010, Oprah received a piece of news about her family that she said moved her to the core. "[It's] a bombastic family secret that left me speechless," she says. "Only a handful of people in my life know."

With the way the media works today, Oprah says there's no way the story won't go public, so she and her family made the decision to do this show. "I wanted you to hear it from me first," she says. It all begins with the story of a woman...a Milwaukee mother who discovers that she is Oprah's half-sister.

Oprah's Family Secret (2)

Patricia was born on April 26, 1963 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From the moment she was born, Patricia's life has been anything but easy. "I was put up for adoption after the birth and was in the hospital for about a month," says Patricia.

Over the next seven years of Patricia's life, she jumped from one adoptive family to another before finally being adopted. All along, she says, she has wanted to be reunited with her biological mother. "I couldn't believe he had no intention of putting me up for adoption. I always wish my birth mother would come back for me," says Patricia. "So as you get older, you know that's not going to happen."

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When Patricia was 17 years old, she gave birth to a daughter, Aquarius, and six years later she had a son, André. "I had my daughter very young, and my whole goal in having my daughter is to have a part of me, to be able to look at her and see a part of me," she says.

Patricia spent the next 30 years raising her children alone. Today she still works two jobs to give her children a better life. "I'm grateful for the people I've had in my life, the people who have given me strength and the people who have loved me," she says. "I don't regret my mother giving up on me because my life wasn't supposed to be like this. That's all."

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When Patricia was 20 years old, she contacted the state of Wisconsin to find her birth mother, but never went further. Then, in 2007, Patricia's children urged her to try again. Patricia applied for her adoption papers and began searching for her birth family.

Soon after, Patricia received her birth certificates in the mail. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" she says. "I have a family." The documents date from 1963, the year Patricia was born. Although the names of her family members were not released, the documents contained important information. "I found out I have three other siblings," says Patricia. At the time of her birth, she had a 4½-year-old sister, a 2-year-old brother, and a 9-year-old sister who lived in Nashville with her father.

The records also showed that two of her siblings, her second sister and her older brother, had already passed away, but her other sister was still alive. "[I was like] 'I can't wait to meet her because she's probably cooking up a storm and she has like 10 kids,'" Patricia says.

But a month later, Patricia received a harrowing call from the state adoption agency. "[The person she called] told me that my birth mother called her back and she decided right then and there that she didn't want to see me," Patricia says. “I told him, 'Okay, because God is going to show me who you are.'

(Video) Oprah's Big Secret: Family Reunited 1/23/2011

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The same day that Patricia was rejected by her birth mother, she saw a story on the local Milwaukee news that would give her some answers. “I had the news on TV and they did an interview with Vernita, Oprah Winfrey's mother,” said Andre, Patricia's son.

During this interview, Oprah's mother revealed details about Oprah's two half-siblings who died. This information matches the information on Patricia's birth certificates. “Her mother said that two of her children had died… I knew that two of my brothers had died and I knew who they were,” says Patricia. Their names? Jeffrey and Patricia, also known as "Pat". “The hairs on the back of my neck stood up because I also knew that one of my brothers and I had the same name,” says Patricia. "I said, 'No, that can't be.'"

All the details were waiting online. André put together the last piece of the puzzle. "I went online and found oneOprah Winfrey Biographyand he saw the dates of birth of his mother and his brothers,” he says. With this information, André and his mother realized thatOprah could be Patricia's half-sister.

Can be this? "Yes, it's true," says Oprah. "It is true that my mother, Vernita, is also Patricia's biological mother, which means that Patricia is my half-sister, that she never knew she existed."

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It was in 2007 when Patrícia compiled her family history, but she says she has no idea what to do with the information. She remembers that Vernita never told her other three children that she gave up a baby for adoption.

Patricia tried three times to contact Vernita., but Vernita said she wasn't ready to meet her yet. "She hurt me a lot," says Patricia. "I had to let it go."

Despite feeling rejected by her birth mother, Patricia decided to keep her findings a secret for fear it would turn into a media frenzy. "I remember still worrying about my older sister and praying to God that nothing would happen," says Patricia. "I didn't want her to get hurt."

Oprah's Family Secret (7)

Patricia wasn't sure what to do next, but then she saw a magazine article about Oprah's niece Alisha, the daughter of Oprah's late sister Pat. Alisha and her husband own a Milwaukee-area restaurant called Pat's Rib Place, named Pat's after her. mother, who died in 2003. Patricia decided to go to the restaurant and meet Alisha.

When she arrived, she saw photos of Pat on the walls of the restaurant and was surprised at how much she looked like Pat. "I'm your mother's sister," Patricia told Alisha. "I think she believed me at the time, but she didn't get it because she was so excited."

Alisha says that she looked at Patricia, surprised at how much she resembled her mother. Patricia then showed Alisha the documents detailing her biological family history. Alisha's husband, Tydus, was suspicious at first. "I'm thinking in my head that he might be a weirdo here who claims to be related only to Oprah," he says.

He then met Patricia and saw the resemblance to his late mother-in-law Pat. “It was the way she talked; it was the way she moved her hands; was the expression she made,” says Tydus. "It was her laughter. It was her emotion, her joy." Tydus says she broke down and began to cry.

"[There was] something about her," says Alisha. "She felt good."

Although Alisha's instincts told her Patricia was her aunt, she said she wanted to be 100% sure. A week later, Patricia and Alisha took a DNA test. The results indicate that there is a positive coincidence of 85% and since they are niece and aunt, there is no doubt that they are related.

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Oprah's family members knew about Patricia for months, but no one told Oprah. "I had no idea that my mother had abandoned a baby in 1963," says Oprah. "I was 9 then, living in Nashville with my dad, and I didn't even know my mom was pregnant... So imagine my surprise a few months ago. It was late October, right before Thanksgiving, [when] I found out I have another sister who lives just 90 minutes away in Milwaukee. What's even more amazing is that she shares the same name as my first sister who died, Patricia."

It was Alisha who first emailed Oprah. Then Alisha's sister, Chrishaunda, sent another email. Oprah says that he called his two nieces and they told him that he needed to talk to his mother, Vernita. But when Oprah spoke to her mother, she said Vernita didn't mention Patricia. After calling other family members, Oprah finally asked her assistant, Libby, to tell her what was going on.

Just 10 minutes before taping for the show began, Libby told Oprah that she had a sister. Oprah called her mother and confronted her. "[I asked] 'Is that true?'" Oprah says. "[Vernita] finally said, 'Well, yeah, I think that's true.'"

(Video) Oprah's secret revealed

Oprah's Family Secret (9)

On Thanksgiving Day, Oprah and Stedman traveled to Milwaukee to meet their half-sister Patricia and Patricia's family for the first time. "You look like Pat," Oprah said, seeing Patricia. They spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at the dining room table and getting to know each other.

In the car on the way back to Chicago, Oprah says that she and Stedman haven't spoken in miles. "Eventually, she turned to me and said, 'What was that?'" Oprah says. "It was so strange to us and everyone in this family how much she looked like she moved and talked like this Patricia Pat.amadoWait, if you know what I mean: the daughter coming back from the dead."

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Photo: George Burns/Harpo Studios

Since meeting her half-sister Patricia and her new niece and nephew, Oprah saysHe came to admire her character.. “The thing that impresses me about this story is going to make me cry, so be patient,” Oprah tells Patricia. "Being such a public person, I've only been to a place a handful of times and they haven't sold me. There have been few times that you have been able to bring someone new into your life without that person betraying you in some way or using you or take advantage of you

Patricia tried and tried again to get answers from my mother and other family members. She never considered going to the press. She never considered selling this story. ... When I heard that about you, I said, 'Regardless of whether it's true or not, I had to meet you because I wanted to meet someone with that character.' So thanks."

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A few weeks after Alisha and Patricia's DNA testing, Patricia met her birth mother, Vernita, for the first time. "I kept looking at her and I thought, 'I don't know if I look like you or not,'" says Patricia. "I kept trying to find myself in it."

But there's no mistaking how much Patricia resembles her half-sister Pat. Pat's daughter, Alisha, says meeting Patricia was "one of the best gifts she could have ever received."

Chrishaunda, Pat's other daughter, first found out about Patricia through Alisha, who then sent her a photo of her newly discovered aunt. "When I saw the photo...I knew it was true," Chrishaunda said. "Before the [DNA] test, I just believed it was true."

For Chrishaunda, meeting Patricia was an emotional process. "I think she has her own personality and her gifts, but to me she is a constant reminder of the goodness that my mother embodied," she says. "My mom had a lot of demons that kept her from being the best version of herself. We know that, but I feel like my mom is speaking through her."

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Opra agrees. "It seems like [this] is closure for my late sister Pat," says Oprah. "My sister Pat, I did the best I could for her and as many of you know I had to take her to drug rehab twice and when she came out she just couldn't do it. I think [Patricia] Pat is having her best day ".

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In January 2011, Patricia and Oprah met at Vernita's Milwaukee home to get more answers from her mother. Vernita, who recently suffered a stroke, says she was surprised, but not scared, when Patricia first tried to contact her. However, she struggled with the shame. "I felt terrible for what I had done, giving up my daughter at birth," says Vernita.

Adoption records show that Vernita gave up Patricia because she wanted welfare. "I made the decision to leave her because I couldn't take care of her," says Vernita. "When I got out of the hospital I told the nurse that she wasn't going to keep the baby. She said, 'Oh, but she's such a sweet little girl.' Why not? '"

After leaving the hospital, Vernita says that she kept thinking about the baby and even went looking for it again. "They told me that she was gone," she says. "I don't know if someone adopted her or what."

Patricia is stunned by her mother's words. "I'm just trying to record everything," she says. "I never heard that she was a pretty baby, so I didn't know. I always felt that she didn't want to give up on me. Her statement that she came back for me means a lot to me."

Now that Patricia is back in Vernita's life, Vernita says that it makes her "feel wonderful."

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Photo: George Burns/Harpo Studios

After leaving Vernita's house, Oprah saysshe had an epiphany: Her mother is still trapped in 1963. “She still has the same mentality as in 1963 and she still carries the shame that would have been inflicted on her in 1963 and that's why she couldn't break free to fully embrace [Patricia]. and accept this miracle that really happened in our family," says Oprah.

Oprah looks at the camera and talks to her mother. "You can let it go. You can let the shame go," she says. “There are millions of people across the country just like you who gave up their children because they knew at the time that they couldn't offer them the best. So, Vernita, you can let it go."

That wasn't Oprah's only epiphany. "I got pregnant when I was 14 and that was my big secret," says Oprah. “I was abused from the age of 9, I got pregnant at 14, I moved in with my dad. My sister Pat went to the tabloids and told them this story. It caused a huge rift between me and my sister because she [me] sold it to the tabloids.

When I left our mother's house the other day, I realized for the first time that this was a gift for me. Pat, going to the tabloids and telling the story of how I had the baby was a gift because she relieved me of the shame that my mother still carries to this day. I thought if she hadn't done that, she'd still be right where my mom is, stuck in shame.

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Despite the difficulties she faced, Patricia never stopped connecting with her birth family. "I knew I had to post it or contact you so no one else would post it," says Patricia herself.

When Oprah questions why, Patricia explains that she didn't mean to hurt Oprah. “It's not fair, number one, because it's a family business,” says Patricia. "And the family business should be run by the family."

"Well, it's out now," says Oprah.

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"And the family supported it," says Patricia. "This shouldn't be handled by someone else. It's not fair. It wouldn't be fair to you."

Patrícia says that her children were also interested in meeting her family. "I realized that when they approached me and asked the same thing: 'Can you find your side of the family?' I thought they didn't feel complete," says Patricia. "I haven't thought about that. I just thought it was just me. ... I said, 'Let me address that for her.'"

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Now that Patricia has found her family, she feels connected, with a sense of wholeness, even if her mother's reaction was not what she imagined. "Okay," Patricia says. "I have my great-nieces and nephews, and I have [Oprah]."

Acuario, Patricia's daughter, says the whole experience was eye-opening. "[It's] a miracle to know that we have a family, to know that we have someone who looks like us, to know that we have someone who can have the same manners as us," she says. "It's amazing to know that we still have half of it."

André, Patricia's son, was also enthusiastic. "I felt really blessed to be a part of your life and just connect with you," he told Oprah.

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Photo: George Burns/Harpo Studios

What was the most rewarding part of this experience? "Get my family back," says Patricia.

To Oprah, who has helped bring many families togetherDie Oprah-ShowOver the years, this is just the beginning of the journey.

"As you can imagine, Patricia and I are still working on this," says Oprah. "It's a process. It's very sweet. She called me and said, 'Are you okay? I know it's hard for you to process.'" Yes it is. I'm still processing it. So let's get to know each other in the months, days and years ahead."

More about the program
Watch Oprah's EpiphanyOprah's Family Secret (17)
Watch Oprah talk about how she connects with PatriciaOprah's Family Secret (18)
Read Oprah's Official Biography


Oprah's Family Secret (19)


Oprah's Family Secret (20)


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