Asking the Right Genealogical Questions

Courtesy of skiprichard.com

“Ask and you shall receive and your joy shall be complete” (Matthew 7:7) was a Bible quote my mom used often. As a child, I sometimes had a difficult time speaking up to those to that I wasn’t close. When I would come home and complain about an injustice that had occurred at school mom would suggest I communicate what I needed. I would return the next day with a practiced speech; I can’t say speaking up always rectified the situation but it was a valuable life skill to practice.

Side note: When speaking up didn’t work and I’d come home and complain to mom her next response was always, “When you have as much education as your teachers then we’ll listen to you.” In other words, suck it up and move on.

Asking for the right information is critical in genealogy. Years ago, I interviewed my maternal grandmother about her early life. I asked where the family lived when they first moved to Gary, Indiana. She replied, “On the corner of Adams and Ridge Road; we rented the top floor.” It didn’t dawn on me that I should have drilled down further. There are four corners, which corner? What was the address? Rented from who? How long did you live there?

Unfortunately, my family lived in that location between the census years. There are City Directories, however, none mention them, likely because they were renting. Because I didn’t ask the right question I will probably never know the answer.

My husband’s maternal great-grandfather’s obituary states he was a “long-time teacher and principal.” What was the name of the school? Where was it located? What subject did he teach? What grade level did he teach? What years did he teach? When did he become a principal?

I have pieced together some of his work life through the usual means – censuses, City Directories, county school records, and his maternal aunt’s diary, however, there are large gaps. For a time, he worked in a private school that has long since closed. Again, I’ll likely never get a complete picture.

I decided to Spring Clean a document storage bin yesterday and found in a folder with my husband’s name on it that he had submitted several employee suggestions to US Steel in the 1970s. One contained a way to filter the air to reduce pollutants. We’ve been together nearly 50 years and were together when he submitted his idea but I had no idea he had done that. Attached to the idea was the company’s response which I’m sure you won’t be surprised about – they didn’t think it was needed.

Keep these lessons in mind when you embark on interviewing your family members. Better still, make sure you’ve recorded your life events for your descendants. Rummage through your saved documents to jog your memory of events or perhaps, like me, discover new information you already had. Seeing your family this Easter – Passover – Ramadan – is a great time to ask the right questions.

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