Question of the Week: Going back in time, what burning question would you ask which ancestor?

+38 votes

Going back in time, what burning question would you ask which ancestor?

in The Tree House by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (39.7k points)
Betty, Those stories you remember are actually quite amazing and wonderful. Times were hard back then and few survived. Yet, YOU are here. Your ancestors memories are part of you. You keep their stories alive. You are here because they survived, and that was no small feat. I congratulate your ancestors for being as tough as they were. I am happy that you are here to tell their tale. my best to you and yours.
Kathleen - this is the kindest comment I have ever read - you have a beautiful heart.
Thank you Kathleen, it is so very nice of you to say so.  They are amazing and wonderful. I want to keep their stories alive and pass them on.   What could be a better tribute to them?  Hugs!
I agree, her comment is very beautiful.
I'd ask my 10x great grandparents, Thomas and Ann Brownell,  if they were followers of Annie Hutchinson. Both men were dealers in fabrics and they were religious families. When Annie was banned from the colony they moved to Rhode Island soon after it was opened. The timing is right and they would have certainly known the Hutchisons because of their professions.  

Annie Hutchison was an interesting character with a larger attendance at her Bible Study group than pastors in approved churches had at the time.
I'd love to ask my Brownell ancestor who was injured at Bunker Hill what it was like to take on the British Empire. I'd have been terrified but it was a good decision.
I'd love to ask my GR grandparents what they thought when they were introduced in New York. They had met on the docks in Scotland but they were getting ready to ship out to America. When they were introduced they discovered they had traveled on the same over crowded immigrant ship and hadn't seen each other. I'd also ask what it was like to be on a crowded ship like that for weeks or months.
I'd like to ask my great-great-grandmother why she changed her mind about the name of her fifth child, who was born after her first husband's death. He was registered as Samuel in the New Zealand birth register, after which she returned to the Cape via London. He was christened Charles at the age of 17 months.

I have many guesses, most of them based on what might have happened in London, where all her in-laws were living.

The name Samuel, complete with middle name, belonged to her husband's brother-in-law, whom she may well never have met before. Did she find him unlikeable or for some other reason not good godfather material? Did her mother-in-law quietly tell her that it was not done to name a child after someone who is not a blood relation?

The name Charles, complete with another three middle names, belonged to her husband's younger brother, aged about 17 when she met him, probably also for the first time. Did she discover only then that Charles had the same birthday as her husband (who had died less than two months before the baby's birth)? Did she like the glorious ring of the four-barreled name, repeating only one of the seven names of her elder three sons? Was it because that one repeated name belonged to a baronet alleged to be the biological father of her husband's grandmother?

Or have I not come close with any of my guesses?
I would ask Adam Schafner born 1702 who his parents where and their parents. Also who his first wife's, Anna Margretha, parents where. I can find nothing before they came to Nova Scotia in 1751
My husband's ancestor, Caleb Buglass from Berwick upon Tweed, left England for St Lucia and Grenada, eventually ending up in Philadelphia in c.1773.  I would like to know if he deserted his wife and six children in Berwick, or if she died before he left, as there is no sign of her after he spent all her money!!  Just for interest, Caleb was a bookbinder who was asked by the newly established United States to bind the first Book of Common Prayer.  He attended the same church (St Peter's) as Ben Franklin who was a printer, so if I am allowed a supplementary question, I'd like to ask if Franklin knew him and, if so, whether he gave him the commission to bind the prayer book.  He married again in the US, to Mary Early and they had two daughters.

45 Answers

+6 votes
Best answer

I have two...

One would be to my great-grandmother Fleta... I would ask her what went through her mind before she committed suicide. She had a difficult life... but she had several little children and I just have always wondered if she felt regret for what she was about to do. I also wonder if she knew how much her action would affect her children if she would have reconsidered. 

The other would be to my great-great grandmother Minnie (who is kind of a brick wall - one that I'm trying to work through)... who was adopted into the Quapaw tribe... enough so that she was granted tribal land by the government. I would LOVE to ask her about her life and about her culture. (I might ask her about her birth parents... but her life would be more interesting to me). 

by Luci Goodman G2G5 (6.0k points)
selected by Brenna Bishop

Wow Luci!  Having read the bio for Fleta (her pic is beautiful); I feel so much sympathy for her and the children. I know that losing a child literally takes the breath from your soul. You are neither prepared for it nor ever able to fully accept it. Perhaps her grief consumed her. Unfortunately, the reasons will never be known. As for Minnie - what an amazing journey she must have had! It appears you have been actively attacking the brick wall and it is only a matter of time until you break through!! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

Hi Deborah, thank you for your comment. I also feel sympathy for Grandma Fleta. In fact, I recently connected with a second cousin (who is also a great granddaughter to her), and we discussed her. We both found that we shared a common love and respect (though neither of us condone suicide) for her - and both I and this other cousin, have often thought of her during out own difficult times - not in a way that would glorify suicide as an option, but as in a reminder that our lives are not so difficult after all, and Grandma Fleta "lasted" as long as she could. She did lose both her mother and one of her daughters shortly before her death, her husband was the "town drunk" and did very little (if anything) to provide for them, and she lived next door to a very domineering mother-in-law. I believe she felt as though she had no other option...

Thank you for crossing your fingers for me with Minnie! I'm hoping for a breakthrough any day now! (Then I can go to work on another brick wall, lol) :D
+17 votes

I would want to ask my GrGr Grandfather, PaweĊ‚ Horeske (; what was life as a young boy like in Germany (Prussia) in the 1830's and how/why did they find it necessary to immigrate to the United States?

Unfortunately, my Mother's family have all passed and my generation is the only one living. I now it's been said over and over have to talk to your family while they are alive if you want to hear the stories of your ancestors.


by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (39.7k points)
I always feel great regret when I find out that another person from a former generation passed away... I have been able to connect with some distant cousins who could piece together some of the details. I hope you have the same luck. :)
You might find that there was religious persecution going on at the time. Prussia repressed its minorities. I notice your surname is very similar to my mum in law's, showing the Prussian origin. The -ke on the end is Slavic and means ' from the village of'. Many Slavs and Germans in that area have it as a surname ending.
+15 votes
I have a zillion (approximately) questions to ask ggg/grandpa Hezekiah Lambert --  If I can only have one, I'd ask him to tell me about his parents and brothers/sisters.
by Nan Starjak G2G6 Pilot (397k points)
Oh my - 20 children - impressive! Can you imagine the family reunion of this One Name Study!
+11 votes
Well, the question would be the same for either my 2ggrandfather on my dad's side or my 3ggrandfather on my mother's side, "Who was your father and where did he live?"
by Living Dardinger G2G6 Pilot (449k points)
+19 votes

I would like to ask my grandmother who my biological grandfather was. She carried the secret to her grave; we didn't even know there WAS a secret until she was gone (via a letter in a lockbox). It makes me angry that she kept it from my father, who grew up without a father because the man on his birth certificate (not his bio father) died 2 weeks before he was born. She did give a first name but how many men in this world are named Billy?!?! 

by Summer Orman G2G6 Mach 9 (96.8k points)
You might have already, but, have you tried utilizing DNA for determining your grandfather, or at least what general line he came from?

If you have any brothers, or if you have uncles (father's brothers) who are alive, or if you have uncles who have sons who are alive, if you get their Y-DNA tested, you can trace their Y-DNA.

Using your own DNA, any matches you have that are large but have absolutely no match to on the X Chromosome have a chance of being related to you through your grandfather. Also, if you have any cousins related to you through your unknown grandfather, if you get their DNA tested, your shared matches would likely be through those grandparents.
I have tested, and I'm trying to convince my father to do so.  He has no brothers, and I have no brothers.  He's my only source of Y-DNA and I'm getting ready to hold him down and force him to spit in a tube!  Ha!!  

I have several matches where I can find no correlation in trees/surnames, but it's hard to do with just my DNA.  I need his and he won't cooperate!  I think he's scared to find out, honestly.  I plan to keep working on him but it doesn't look promising!
That is so unfortunate and extremely frustrating to not know!  Hopefully your Father will eventually DNA test and you'll be able to uncover the truth eventually.

I think he probably will....eventually.  I just have to figure out a way to make him think it's his idea, instead of me just suggesting it.  He's that type of person, won't do anything unless it's his own idea.  Stubborn!

Summer - I feel your frustration on this. I'm having the same conversation with my mother, who claims that her father isn't her father. To me, this just creates an urban legend, especially when all the birth certificates and such all state one thing - and she believes another. I've talked to her about DNA testing and such between her and her sisters, but I suspect she's not interested in finding out - especially if it proves her wrong. I think she'd rather suspect that she's right and leave it at that - rather than be proven for a fact that she's wrong.

Family can really be a mess sometimes, eh?  I sometimes feel like I have the 2 figures on each shoulder, talking and driving me crazy.  Let me elaborate before anyone calls the men in white coats...

I've just used DNA to solve the question of my mom's paternity as well (honestly, people played around more in the 50s than they liked to admit!)....On one shoulder are my mom's paternal half-sisters, saying HAHAHA!!!  We told you that you were ours!!!  We knew you were part of us, you look just like us!  And on the other shoulder are my mom's maternal half-sisters, saying "NO YOU DON'T, he's not her father, I don't care what DNA says, he didn't raise her, he didn't even want to see her until she was grown, and that side doesn't care about you!"  Followed by not speaking to me because I dared challenge them.

Beer anyone?  I don't even drink but this makes me want to!  HA!!

Have you checked the census records where she lived, maybe there were neighbors with that name and you can take it from there.
Hi Karla,

Actually, I HAVE done that.  There is one person who was a possibility, but it never panned out.  :(
I am sure there is a bit of fear, maybe if you use an avenue other than finding his father, more looking back to connect to other people, places. Just got my Mom's test off - she saw no real reason (tree done years ago back to 1500's by someone) her to consider and then do. Wants to see if the tree created on her side is accurate...a thought?
+13 votes
I'd ask my 3rd GGFather Heathcote Chilcote who his first wife was. The wife he married after No. 1 died in 1829 is the remembered mother of his children, but they weren't married until 1831, when his youngest child was 18 years old.
by Tom Bredehoft G2G6 Pilot (214k points)
Tom, do you have any idea why her identity was "hidden" from your family?
Perhaps his second wife WAS the mother of the children he had during his first marriage ... and then he married his mistress after his first wife died.
Ooooh Helen, that's an interesting theory!
Its all mixed up, there were two Heathcote Chilcotes living in Harmony Twp, Morrow County, Ohio in the early to mid 1800s, both families buried in the same little cemetery. I know a Catherine was buried in 1829, she is the supposed mother, but since they were married in 1803 plus or minus in Pennsylvania there are no "official" records to fall back on.
+12 votes
I'ld ask gt grandmother Elizabeth who were the fathers of her 4 children. Nary a name on the birth certificate and she didn't have them baptised. Grandpa was raised by his aunts.
by Rosemary Jones G2G6 Pilot (268k points)
Wow - this could become a "Movie of the Week". I can't imagine the sadness of not having the identity of Father.
+11 votes
I would like to ask my great grandmom why did she tell my mom,her granddaughter, she had a twin brother,frank.  frank was 2 yrs older than her but she did have a twin sister,carrie
by Joyce Lowe G2G2 (2.6k points)
+12 votes

There is no one burning others who have answered I would want to know who the father or mother is for my brickwalls. But further on this, I would like to ask my Loyalist 6th ggfather Thomas Hunt why he didn't flee to Canada when he was imprisoned and persecuted for being a Loyalist in revolutionary Virginia.  Mags

by Mags Gaulden G2G6 Pilot (658k points)
Wow! That would be an amazing piece of family history to uncover! Hopefully somebody has some record or journal or letter that has been passed down their line that might give you some answers.

How very interesting. I was born and raised in Canada, but my late mother was American, with many ancestors who fought in the American Revolution (on the winning side). My Canadian ancestors arrived here only starting in 1819.

You must be one of a limited number of Americans who realize that the Revolution was actually a civil war, with 30% of the American colonists NOT wanting to separate from Britain. The US has been through two civil wars.

+10 votes
No specific burning question, but I wish I had talked more to my father-in-law before he died 4 years ago, just before I got back into genealogy. His family is full of brick walls, and I think he could have solved a few with some of his family stories, even though the stories were a little convoluted and confused toward the end of his life.

BTW, here's a great post from Blaine Bettinger, the Genetic Genealogist, talking about a distant relative who was a treasure trove of info for him:
by Carole Partridge G2G6 Mach 7 (77.0k points)
edited by Carole Partridge
Carole - that is a great post - thanks so much for sharing it!

It should remind each of us to listen to and document what wonderful memories our elders enrich our lives with!
+9 votes
I would ask my great-great-grandfather Thomas W. Roberts if he had any stories of pirate ancestry ;-)
by Peter Roberts G2G6 Pilot (727k points)
edited by Peter Roberts
+8 votes

Well, I do have a GGGGrandmother whom I would like to ask why there were no siblings to her daughter. I would have to be very tactful, I suppose.

She and her husband lived many long years together, at a time when families were always large unless a spouse died early. The thing is that they were in a hurry to get married; the daughter was born two months after their wedding. Which was certainly the sort of thing one didn't talk about in the family. Nor would one talk about reproductive problems, of course.

All forgotten until this nosy GGGGrandchild goes reading the data in the records and starts wondering if she has researched the entirely wrong set of ancestors on that line. Just before she married, GGGGrandmother was housekeeper for an older man who had recently been widowed. IF there is a story here, it cannot be a happy one.

by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (591k points)
Well, we have to be nosy if we want to get to the bottom of our history! I discovered my Grandfather had a 1st wife and child who both died young and then he married my Grandmother. Even my Father didn't know about them!!
Yup. I just cannot help imagining how I would actually talk to her; it wouldn't be easy. I'm NOT a very tactful person.
Deborah... I discovered the same thing (only the first wife and daughter did not pass away)... and though a few people in my family know about it - it remains a family secret. I would love to meet this other family, but I know it isn't possible right now.

Eva... I think tact isn't a strongpoint for many genealogists as it is our "job" to go snooping around. ;)
+8 votes
I'd ask my great great grandmother who my great great grandfather father is, and for the names of her grandparents!

... on that note, if anyone wants to help with some more brick wall (York-2744) stuff, I'd be so unimaginably grateful.
by G. Borrero G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
Oh those brick walls!! I sure hope you find a sledgehammer wielding 'cousin' soon :) Best of Luck.
+9 votes

Does it have to be just one?! :-D

First, I would ask my maternal grandmother's biological mother, Edla Uhlin, to tell me her story. She was 40 years old when she had illegitimate twin daughters. She was working as a cook or a maid, and the father was her married employer. She ultimately gave the children up for adoption. She never married, and, as far as I know, she had no other children.

The other person I would like to get to know is my paternal grandmother, Lillie (Courson) Fiscus. She died of congestive heart failure when my father was only 12 years old. I was born on her birthday.

Finally, one of my great uncles is a bit of a mystery: Elias Fiscus. In 1925, his oldest son died at the age of 12, and two years later his wife died. He married three more times, but his three other wives are a mystery.

His younger children were often found living with one of his sisters in the census listings, but he was living with his parents. I just want to know the story, but I have a feeling it would be a difficult one to hear.


by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (503k points)
I can't even imagine the pain Edla must have gone through having to give her babies up for adoption and then living the rest of her life alone. It's wonderful to see her twins were able to live long (and hopefully happy) lives!
I've thought the same thing, Deborah.

Magnus has actually talked to some members of this family, and my Ohlsson relatives have also told me that the families stayed in touch. So, the twin sisters knew each other throughout their lives. I even got to meet Grandma's twin when she came to visit the United States in the 1970s.

There are so many interesting "little" things that happened in my Swedish family. We have an entire branch of our tree that we didn't know about until about 20 years ago.
+7 votes
I'd like to ask my great grandfather and grandmother what their parents names were.
by Pat Kelynack G2G6 Mach 4 (49.1k points)
+7 votes
I would ask all of them why they didn't pass on information or traditions etc. down.  My parents don't have any information and so I am on this journey to find out what was not passed along.
by Michele Stoen G2G1 (1.8k points)
Wow Michele - that is going to be a heck of a journey!  I'm fortunate to have traditions passed down through the years BUT, we've also started many of our own that we're handing down to our children. I hope you've been able to do the same. Best of luck in your journey :)
Good luck! And if any of us can help you, let us know!
+7 votes
If I could ask one non-genealogy question, it would be to my gt-gt uncle, George Stephen Kemp.

"Did your boss actually hear the first transatlantic radio message or was it a case of " I can't hear anything, you have a go?
+7 votes
Just one question? Eeek i have many but just one then it would have to be to my GGG Grandfather John Cooke and i would ask him where on earth was he born?!
by Iain Cooke G2G6 Mach 1 (11.9k points)
+8 votes
I would ask my 4g grandmother, Jane Wetherell ( ) to tell me about her trip to Kentucky in 1780/81.  Where did she and her husband come from?  Why did they go to Kentucky/ Who was her husband?  How did he die?  How did she survive between his death and her second marriage?  To whom did she give her son?
by Gayel Knott G2G6 Mach 3 (34.3k points)
+8 votes
I would like to be able to ask them all to relate their life stories to me. During which, I could ask questions.
by Leslie Cooper G2G6 Mach 5 (50.4k points)

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