Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fifteen Questions to Ask on Thanksgiving

Me with my mother and grandmother on Thanksgiving, 2002

The benefit of becoming interested in genealogy as a young person is that some of your older relatives may still be alive and able to share information about their ancestors. By the time most people get around to working on their family tree, they’ve lost the relatives who could easily answer their questions. I was lucky in this respect, because I became interested in genealogy early and had the opportunity to talk with my grandparents about their experiences and extended family. I was able to record some of their stories for posterity, and will forever be grateful for the things I learned from them.

The year before he died, I sat down with my paternal grandfather, David Austin Lacey, and asked him about his military service in World War II. I had taken a trip to Hawaii, toured Pearl Harbor, and realized I didn't know anything about my own grandfather's service in the U.S. Navy. I’m very glad I took the initiative to ask him some questions after that trip. I learned about my grandfather's service in the South Pacific, the challenges his crew faced, and the typhoon that sunk his ship. I only wish that I had also asked him this simple question: “What was your father like?” My paternal great-grandfather, Thomas Lacey, is an enigma to me. I know where he was born, how he got from Ireland to America, and where his home was located, but I do not know anything about his personality, his hobbies, or how he lived day-to-day. It is these sorts of things that make distant ancestors real people in one’s imagination, and not just names on a page. If I could go back in time, I would ask my grandfather about his dad, and I would write it all down.

Even if you are not interested in your family history now, you may be some day in the future. Or, your children may be curious. I highly encourage you to take a little time and sit down with an elderly relative. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to do this! If there are older relatives at your Thanksgiving table, sit next to them. Ask them about their parents and grandparents. Ask them about their childhood. They will love sharing their stories, and you will have great information to pass on someday in the future. Here is a list of fifteen questions to get you started, but once you begin this conversation, I guarantee that you’ll find you have many more.

  1. What were the names of your parents and grandparents? 
  2. Where were your parents and grandparents born? 
  3. Who is the oldest relative you can remember meeting? Can you share a story about them? 
  4. Do you know when and how your ancestors came to America? 
  5. What did your parents and grandparents do for a living? 
  6. Can you describe the personalities of your parents and grandparents? Do you have any favorite memories of them to share? 
  7. Did your parents and grandparents have any special hobbies or interests? 
  8. Did your parents or grandparents serve in the military? If so, when and where? 
  9. Tell me about your siblings and cousins. Were you especially close to any of them? 
  10. Can you remember any world events that had a particular impact on your family during your childhood? 
  11. How did you meet your spouse, and can you recount some special stories from your courtship and married life? 
  12. Where did you go to school and what did you study? How about your parents? 
  13. How did your family celebrate holidays? Did you have any favorite traditions? 
  14. What accomplishments in your life are you the most proud of, and why? 
  15. Do you have any family heirlooms or memorabilia that are special to you? Can you share any family photos with me?

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