‘The Waltons’: How One Episode of the Series Addressed Adoption Questions

by Suzanne Halliburton

Although The Waltons series was set decades ago, the issues the family dealt with still seem so genuine and very real.

And, on the episode “The Secret,” which was first broadcast on Jan. 8, 1976, The Waltons gave us a lesson on loss, a mother’s guilt, and most of all, what secrets can do to a family.

Judy Norton, who played the oldest daughter Mary Ellen, discussed the details on her weekly online show. Her show provides behind-the-scene details on The Waltons, still one of the most beloved shows in classic TV.

This The Waltons Episode Revolves Around Jim-Bob

Here’s how John-Boy Walton set up the episode with this prologue from his journal:

“There comes a time in a young man’s life when he begins to wonder how he fits into the world around him. When that time came for my brother, Jim-Bob, it brought the unfolding of a long-kept secret.”

The episode focuses on the youngest Walton boy — Jim-Bob. Elizabeth, his little sister, kids Jim-Bob about how he doesn’t look like most of the other kids. Horrors. She points out he doesn’t have red hair. The others tease Jim-Bob, pondering whether gypsies placed him on the Waltons front porch when he was a baby.

Or, was he adopted?

Jim-Bob and Elizabeth go upstairs to the attic and sift through family photos. However, there aren’t nearly as many of him as the other six siblings. John Walton discovered his two youngest children upstairs and tells them it’s time for bed. Then he tells Olivia what they were doing. This upsets Olivia as she looks at one of Jim-Bob’s baby photos.

Jim-Bob’s curiosity is piqued even more when he visits the store and Ike Godsey tells him about the day he was born. Unlike the other Waltons, he was born at a hospital in Charlottesville.

John-Boy and Jim-Bob Find a Secret at County Courthouse

Then John-Boy takes Jim-Bob to the county courthouse, where they look up Jim-Bob’s notice of birth. The two uncover a secret. Jim-Bob had a twin brother who died at birth. The twin’s name was Joseph Zebulon Walton. His middle name was a nod to Grandpa Walton.

But none of The Waltons children knew they ever had another brother.

Judy Norton said “Jim-Bob finds out this secret and when it’s brought to light, it culminates in a really beautiful moment between Olivia and Jim -Bob. There’s so much caught up in this final moment.”

Olivia Walton never intended to keep the death of Joseph Zebulon Walton a secret. His death was too heartbreaking to discuss.

And John-Boy ends the episode with this epilogue from his journal:

“The most valuable truth that all of us learned, when that secret was finally revealed, is that belonging to a family has less to do with being born than being loved. And with all the hurts and fears and wants we might remember from those Depression years, being loved is what we remember the best.”