Tough questions I wish I had asked before they were gone

My bookshelves hold several books on oral history. One of my favorites is My Backyard History Book. It was published in 1975 and is out of print but it often shows up on used book websites.  It is written for children and for some reason it always spoke to me. (Please no joking about my second childhood!) I used questions from that book several times when I interviewed relatives but I wish I could ask them more direct questions today. These go beyond the usual questions! My two sisters and I had some serious discussions about our family while we ate lunch today. That was the impetus for this blog post.

Grandma Gert:  I know how you met Grandpa Mike (dance at the St. Paul Hotel) but how long until you were engaged and then how long were you engaged before your wedding?

Grandma Toots: How did you and Grandpa Stuart meet? Why did you always arrive at our home in separate cars?

Grandpa Stuart: Did you and your Father ever become friendly again after he had abandoned the family and you had to work to support the family? Was your Mother as ah, um, well, as prickly as some have told me?

Mom: Were you abused by an uncle or someone else? There was always something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Dad:  Why did you hide the fact that you had a first wife?

Mom: Were you ever happy?

Mom & Dad: Why didn’t you ever tell us about our baby brother who died?

Mom & Dad: Why are there so few pictures of me with grandparents and great grandparents? I would love to have a picture of me with the great grandparents that were still alive when I was born. I have those for my own children.

Mom & Aunt Jeanie: How did the two of you survive when you both lost baby boys in the same year and when it was also the year when Jeanie lost her husband in the Korean War?

All of you relatives who are no longer with us: Why the heck didn’t you share much health information so all the family could have this for reference!

There are other family dynamics questions I wish I had asked before my parents and grandparents were gone. I loved them all, but doggone it, I wish I understood some things more.


© 2015, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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4 comments on “Tough questions I wish I had asked before they were gone

  1. Remind your clients to ask questions!! My father’s mother lived until I was three. No time to ask anything. His father was dead before I was born. My mothers parents lived until I was in college but, again, I didn’t ask any questions. I wish I had asked about her sister Jennie because I could find nothing about her. All I knew was that she had a book store in Rockaway Beach Oregon in the 1940’s. One day a girl emailed me and said ” every time I put my family information in to Ancestry, I come up with your family”. Well, she was related to the missing Jennie.

    Asking questions is really the trick to learning about your family. It is too late when all the family is dead!

  2. What a great list of questions! There are so many things I wish I had asked my grandparents about their families. My Dad’s mother died when I was three and I only have a few memories of her. I wish I had asked about her parents — people I will never know except through paper records.
    My mothers parents lived until I was in college but I didn’t ask any questions either. It has taken me 65 years to find one of my grandmothers sisters — out of the blue a girl contacted me and said that “every time I put what I know of my family in to Ancestry I come up with your family.” Her ancestor was the one sibling of my grandmother that I had totally lost. So now I have a new cousin and we share information regularly.
    Remind your clients and friends to ask questions!

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