Find those pearls of wisdom
The New England Historic Genealogical Society’s e-zine always has a survey for its readers. One of their recent issues asked if you could talk to any of your ancestors, without regard to language barriers or time, who would it be? They were interested in what century your chosen ancestor came from, but the question has got me asking myself: who would I choose among all the thousands of names of ancestors and relatives?
For me it was almost a spontaneous decision. I would talk with my paternal grandfather. He died before I was born and with him the absolute knowledge of who his Lithuanian ancestors were and whether the bits and pieces of stories handed down by his children and nieces and nephews were accurate or not. I’d want to ask him about his own grandparents, what life was like, how he escaped from the hard hand of the Russian Empire. I have so many questions that were never asked or answered.
You might want to think about that yourselves. No matter how large or small your family tree research is at this point, who in it intrigues you the most? Would you want to talk to someone who could possibly break down a brick wall and perhaps answer the question of parentage or maiden name? Or would you talk to someone you had known, perhaps when you were young and genealogy was a word not in your vocabulary? Would you want to speak again with a loved one now gone?
One of the first columns I wrote dealt with the regrets we all feel that we never asked family members or even friends of the family for more information. Most of us got the genealogy bug later in life when those elderly relatives were all gone and their memories and knowledge of family history with them.. Or, we were so focused on finding records we put off the time to seek out family and talk with them, assuming they would always to be with us. Sadly, every genealogist I talk with says the same thing: why didn’t I ask more about my family?
So, I will repeat my advice in that early column. Make time now to communicate with anyone who might have knowledge of your family whether a family member or even a neighbor or friend of the family. Don’t wait, because time has a way of playing games with us and moving quickly by. As we age it seems to move more and more quickly.
If you’re fortunate enough to have surviving relatives, even cousins of your own age, talk to them. You never know what they might remember or have been told that you have forgotten or for whatever reason never heard. While we have to take oral histories with a large grain of salt for stories, like fish that got away, grow larger with time, still those histories and memories often contain a pearl of fact that can help us move forward with our research.
Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society. Reader emails are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.