Some 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:
- What is your name and how was it chosen? When and where were you born?
- Who were your parents? When and where were they born?
- Did your parents already have children when you arrived? Who were your siblings and what were their ages?
- Who were your grandparents? When and where were they born?
- How old were your grandparents when you were born? Where did they live? What were their homes like?
- Did other family members live in the area? Who were they and how were you related?
- What did your parents and grandparents do for a living?
- What was your religion growing up? What church did you attend? Were you baptized and/or confirmed?
- How old were you when your parents died? Your grandparents? Your siblings? What caused their deaths?
- Growing up, who was the oldest relative you remember?
- What important events (local or global) occurred during your childhood? How did these events affect you and your family?
- Were there any new inventions created? How did you make use of them?
- Did you have pets as a child? As an adult?
- What were your day-to-day activities? What foods, hairstyles, movies, clothing, music, and/or activities were popular during your lifetime?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Did you own a home or property? When and where? Who were your neighbors? What was your (and their) social and economic status?
- Did you ever appear in a newspaper? Which one? Why, when and where?
- 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?
- How did you feel about the local and national governments? About laws and paying taxes?
- Were there any traditions in your family surrounding birthdays? Holidays? Family births? Weddings? Funerals?
- Did you take pictures? Create a photo album? Keep a journal? Write and/or receive letters? Save newspaper clippings?
- Were you in the military? Did you participate in a war? In what way? How and when were you discharged?
- Did you immigrate to another country? When and why? Did you become a citizen of your new homeland? When, where and why?
- 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?
- Did you have a will? Was your estate subject to probate?
- When and where were you buried (name of cemetery with section and plot)? Do you have a headstone? What does it say?
- Was an obituary published? When and where? Who provided the information it contained?
- 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?