How would you call the action of discovering things about someone's past?

For example, finding information of someone and you came across with stuff you didn't want to find.

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    Context, more context needed. It's unclear what you are asking. Do you expect to find a single word for such a concept? Could you come up with an example sentence where this word or phrase might be put? – CowperKettle Dec 14 '15 at 6:02
  • If you are searching for the antonym of fortune teller, I think you need to make the word. I'd call it - a past (life) teller. – Maulik V Dec 14 '15 at 6:11
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    I think the Imprek has asked a good question. He wants to know name of action which is discovering things about someone's past. – kitty Dec 14 '15 at 6:53
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    @kitty - I think most of us agree this could be an interesting question; we just need more information. Discovering things about one's past could mean a lot of different things: (a) I just learned my great-grandfather was a pilot; (b) I just found out I had an operation when I was two; (c) my mom just told me that this thing on my leg isn't a birthmark. And, perhaps most troubling of all: What is wrong with saying "discovering things about my past"? Until I had more information, I'd be at a loss here. – J.R. Dec 14 '15 at 8:52
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    I've edited the post! – user27599 Dec 14 '15 at 11:28

There's an idiom that might fit here: skeleton(s) in the closet.

Wikipedia describes this as:

a colloquial phrase and idiom used to describe an undisclosed fact about someone which, if revealed, would have a negative impact on perceptions of the person

So, you could use the phrase like this:

I'm starting to regret thumbing through my wife's old address book – too many skeletons in the closet.

It wouldn't be universally applicable to the situation you describe:

Finding information of someone and you came across with stuff you didn't want to find.

For example, if you found out that your best friend was recently diagnosed with cancer, that wouldn't be a cause of embarrassment or shame, so it wouldn't be regarded as a “skeleton in the closet.”

The Phrase Finder defeins this expression as:

A secret source of shame ... which a person or family makes efforts to conceal.

While the Idiom Reference website says:

Brief Definition:
Embarrassing or incriminating secrets from your past.


How about this:

surprising or shocking revelations about one's past


The other day I was rummaging through some old things of my father's when I stumbled upon a bunch of really old photos and it was quite a shocking revelation for me to learn that he had dozens of female lovers when he was young. Who could've thought that my father was a ladies' man? He certainly doesn't look like one to me now.


You appear to be asking for a verb, i.e. a name for the action. In order to choose, one needs to know whether the discovery was accidental or not.

If accidental, you might say "stumble(d) on" (accidental and surprising), or perhaps "came across" (accidental but less shocking).

If the find was on purpose, you might say "uncover" or perhaps "investigation revealed".

To put it together with J.R.'s nouns:

I stumbled on a skeleton in her closet

Investigation revealed several skeletons in his closet

I uncovered shocking revelations about X's past

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