Dear Ancestor; I Have a Few Questions

QuestionSome of the folks in my family tree did a fantastic job creating records and leaving long paper trails. Others not so much. Whether there are many documents or a paltry few, I would love a moment alone with each of my ancestors.

There are a million emotion-based questions I’d love to ask (how did that make you feel?) and tons of if-then scenarios I’d like to play out (if you had stayed in the old county, then what?) with nearly everyone who’s name appears on a family group sheet filed in my home office.

Since the likelihood of having that opportunity is rather slim, I put together a list of questions I might be able to answer with resources available in the here and now.

“Dear Ancestor, I have a few questions:

  1. What is your name and how was it chosen? When and where were you born?
  2. Who were your parents? When and where were they born?
  3. Did your parents already have children when you arrived? Who were your siblings and what were their ages?
  4. Who were your grandparents? When and where were they born?
  5. How old were your grandparents when you were born? Where did they live? What were their homes like?
  6. Did other family members live in the area? Who were they and how were you related?
  7. What did your parents and grandparents do for a living?
  8. What was your religion growing up? What church did you attend? Were you baptized and/or confirmed?
  9. How old were you when your parents died? Your grandparents? Your siblings? What caused their deaths?
  10. Growing up, who was the oldest relative you remember?
  11. What important events (local or global) occurred during your childhood? How did these events affect you and your family?
  12. Were there any new inventions created? How did you make use of them?
  13. Did you have pets as a child? As an adult?
  14. What were your day-to-day activities? What foods, hairstyles, movies, clothing, music, and/or activities were popular during your lifetime?
  15. When and where did you go to school? Did you graduate from grade school? High school? College? Did you appear in a yearbook or in any school photos?
  16. Did you participate in extra-curricular activities? Who were your friends and what did you do together? Did you belong to any clubs or associations?
  17. When and where did you marry? Were you married more than once? How did you meet your spouse(s)? Under what circumstances did your marriage(s) end?
  18. Did you own a home or property? When and where? Who were your neighbors? What was your (and their) social and economic status?
  19. Did you ever appear in a newspaper? Which one? Why, when and where?
  20. What was your profession and how did you choose it? Where were you employed? Did you receive any professional certifications? Did you belong to any professional organizations?
  21. How did you feel about the local and national governments? About laws and paying taxes?
  22. Were there any traditions in your family surrounding birthdays? Holidays? Family births? Weddings? Funerals?
  23. Did you take pictures? Create a photo album? Keep a journal? Write and/or receive letters? Save newspaper clippings?
  24. Were you in the military? Did you participate in a war? In what way? How and when were you discharged?
  25. Did you immigrate to another country? When and why? Did you become a citizen of your new homeland? When, where and why?
  26. When and where did you die? How old were you and what caused your death? Who informed the authorities that you had died? Did you have a religious funeral?
  27. Did you have a will? Was your estate subject to probate?
  28. When and where were you buried (name of cemetery with section and plot)? Do you have a headstone? What does it say?
  29. Was an obituary published? When and where? Who provided the information it contained?
  30. Which family members were most affected by your death and in what way?”

Are there questions you’d like to ask your ancestors? What would you most like to know about the people in your family tree?


4 thoughts on “Dear Ancestor; I Have a Few Questions

  1. Hi Laura,
    I wanted to ask your permission to give a shout-out to your message in the Cook-Co-IL Digest in my blog (include a quote) and link to your blog. I just really enjoyed these questions.

    Also, thank you for typing those wonderful death notices!


  2. I’d like to ask my grandfather a lot of questions. I knew him well, until his death in 1975 at the age of 97. He had a great memory, and told wonderful stories of his childhood in Norway and his life in the US and Canada after coming to America at 12 with his mother and siblings. I’d start with the ones listed above that I don’t already know. BUT, there are still a lot of things I wish I’d asked, starting with:

    1. What was the trip from Norway to England to Boston to ND like for you?For your mother and siblings? What was it like to see your father again, after two years? I don’t remember stories about any of that.
    2. I know you regretted, as an old man, that because you’d finished school in Norway, you didn’t get additional schooling in America while your younger siblings finished high school here. How did this make you feel toward your parents at the time they decided your income was more important than your education?
    3. How did you meet my grandmother? What attracted you to her? What attracted her to you? Did your parents approve of each other’s choice?
    4. Why did you and she homestead with her father and siblings right after your marriage? Why did you all quit homesteading?
    5. What was it like to have your entire family get the Spanish flu in 1918, and take care of them when all of you were quarantined? Did lots of other people in your small Canadian town get it from the soldiers who were returning home on the train? What was it like for the town?
    6. What led you to your career, and the various business ventures you embarked on?
    7. How did you and Grandma manage to put all five children through higher education during the Depression?
    Lots more, Grandpa, I still miss you and your good cooking!


    • Great questions Doris! How nice that your grandfather shared so many stories. Like you, I wish I had asked for more specifics. How fortunate for you that the family survived the Spanish flu – what a frightening experience that must have been for them. Thank you for your input – so interesting!


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