Fifty Questions for Family History Interviews

This is NOT my work, but definitely worth sharing. It was posted by , a consultant, genealogist, writer, speaker, trainer and amateur radio operator… in other words, a man of all trades! You can find Lee’s blog, Lineagekeeper’s Genealogy Blog, at http://www.leedrew.com/

Many folks are taking advantage of the FamilySearch initiative “Meet My Grandma.”

interviewThe initiative focuses on writing about memories of her, typically from the memory and experience of the writer.  It is a wonderful exercise that benefits not only the writer but the family and friends of ‘grandma’.

We should also write more in-depth histories about our ancestors.  Hopefully, we capture their memories, knowledge, sense of humor and sense of reality from their perspective.

A great way to uncover clues to your family history or to get great quotes for journaling in a heritage scrapbook is a family interview.  By asking the right, open-ended questions, you’re sure to collect a wealth of family tales. Use this list of family history interview questions to help you get started, but be sure to personalize the interview with your own questions as well.

  • What is your full name? Why did your parents select this name for you? Did you have a nickname?
  • When and where were you born?
  • How did your family come to live there?
  • Were there other family members in the area? Who?
  • What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
  • Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • Describe the personalities of your family members.
  • What kind of games did you play growing up?
  • What was your favorite toy and why?
  • What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?
  • Did you have family chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite?
  • Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
  • What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
  • What school activities and sports did you participate in?
  • Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
  • Who were your childhood heroes?
  • What were your favorite songs and music?
  • Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names?
  • What was your religion growing up? What church, if any, did you attend?
  • Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
  • Who were your friends when you were growing up?
    What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? Did any of them personally affect your family?
  • Describe a typical family dinner.
  • Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking? What were your favorite foods?
  • How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
  • How is the world today different from what it was like when you were a child?
  • Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
  • What do you know about your family surname?
  • Is there a naming tradition in your family, such as always giving the firstborn son the name of his paternal grandfather?
  • What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
  • Are there any stories about famous or infamous relatives in your family?
  • Have any recipes been passed down to you from family members?
  • Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
  • Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
  • What was the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
  • When and how did you meet your spouse? What did you do on dates?
  • What was it like when you proposed (or were proposed to)? Where and when did it happen? How did you feel?
  • Where and when did you get married?
  • What memory stands out the most from your wedding day?
  • How would you describe your spouse? What do (did) you admire most about them?
  • What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage?
  • How did you find out your were going to be a parent for the first time?
  • Why did you choose your children’s names?
  • What was your proudest moment as a parent?
  • What did your family enjoy doing together?
  •  What was your profession and how did you choose it?
  • If you could have had any other profession what would it have been? Why wasn’t it your first choice?
  • Of all the things you learned from your parents, which do you feel was the most valuable?
  • What accomplishments were you the most proud of?
  • What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?

Posted 27 Sep 2014 by Lee R. Drew on Lineagekeeper’s Genealogy Blog


Unknown Female Child

While researching today at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I ran across an interesting entry in a parish record that made me stop and do a double take. After magnifying the document so I could read it better, I was dismayed at what I had discovered – the burial of an unidentified child.

The parish record, which recorded the marriages and burials for the village of Harworth in Nottingham, England, held the following disturbing entry for the date of January 26, 1723:

An unknown female child found dead upon Harworth Comon & buried in Harworth Church Yard.

COLDCASE_1723No name, age or identifying marks, was used to describe the child and unlike the other burial entries, there was no father or mother’s name listed, claiming kinship. There was no evidence that this child was loved, missed or even remembered.

Unknown female child.

Somewhere, a family is missing a part of their family tree. An descendant doesn’t know that unknown female child is a part of their history – one of their ancestors.

Unknown female child.

Just thinking of those words, the only words left to history to remember her, bothers me and leaves me with so many unanswered questions. For almost 300 years, this child, somebody’s baby, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s loved one, has been known only as an unknown female child.

What happened to that little girl? Was she an infant? A toddler? Was she old enough to speak out? Did she have a family that loved her and missed her? Was it an accident? Did someone hurt her? Was it someone she knew or loved?

And the biggest question?

Why wasn’t she claimed?

Everyone deserves to be remembered. Every being deserves to know that they mattered. Every life deserves to be recorded.

Especially, an unknown female child.


LOST TIES

Armando Balifrank Onorati early 1950s and his oldest son Gary Steven Onorati, USMC, 1990.

Armando Balifrank Onorati, USA in the  early 1950s and his oldest son Gary Steven Onorati, USMC, 1990.

Facebook is an amazing and innovative tool… it helps you stay connected with family and friends near and far. You can share pictures with family members and watch each others children grow up without having to actually be close. You can keep track of loved ones stationed overseas or in war zones, keep up-to-date with what friends are up to, follow pages of interests, businesses you enjoy patronizing or causes you believe in. You have the ability to reach masses with one post, to stir emotions in strangers and to bring awareness and support to what’s important to you or even reconnect with lost family members. But even with all of its benefits in expanding communication and contact with people globally, Facebook, I believe has destroyed the art of communication between families.

How many of you use Facebook on a daily basis? How many of you stay signed into Facebook on a 24-hour basis? How many of you get text messages, tweets or some other forms of alert when there is a new post on your page, a response to a thread or conversation you are following or when someone instant messages you? How many are willing to be honest about how much time they spend on Facebook on a daily basis? Is it more than an hour? Several hours? The entire day?

I am guilty of all of the above.

Why do we do it? Because it’s easy and less personal. It takes less time to send a text message than it does to have an actual conversation. It’s less confrontational to send a blast to someone we’re upset with than to face them face-to-face. It’s easier to be brave behind the anonymity of a computer screen than to face someone in person. It’s easier to share information than it is to share feelings.

Facebook told me my oldest son got married. Or rather, my Auntie did, after she read about it on Facebook and she was living in Florida. My son and his now wife were living with me in my home in Tennessee. But Facebook also allowed me to keep in touch with my brother almost on a daily basis while he was stationed in Iraq for two years. Facebook also informed me when he returned home, got married to a new wife and no longer needed my support.

Tonight, Facebook informed me of the passing of my father-in-law,  Armando Balifrank Onorati, a man I had met only in passing in 2001. Facebook told me that my father-in-law died just a few hours ago at age 81, and even though I had never talked to him, I feel a loss. I feel sad that I never had the opportunity to get to know the man who was responsible for the birth of the man I have been in love with for more than 27 years. I feel pain that my sons’ grandfather never got to meet them, to talk to them or to see the wonderful job that his son did with raising his grandsons. I feel sad that this man, the reason my children exist at all, never knew he had a great-grandson who lives to carry on his name. I feel pain that my husband and my sons will not know first hand of the legacy and the history of the Onorati name. I feel sad and I cry tonight with the knowledge that an opportunity has been forever lost, a treasure has been stolen and for all its benefits, after being estranged for more than 45 years, even Facebook couldn’t bring a family back together.


Papa’s Baby

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Today, I visited the remnants of an old plantation home located in the Town of Stanton in Haywood County, Tennessee. The site used to be the old home place of Joseph and Lucy Stanton, founders of the town. It is not the original home, as that was burnt down and a smaller home built in its place. Time has been rather kind to the home in the regard that it is still standing but it is evident that the home had not been lived in for many years.

Natural has begun to encroach upon the foundation of the home. Critters, various plants and trees have broken through the barrier long ago designated between nature and man. It is evident that the home was once a modest, yet grandeur home of the times, complete with a front porch that must have seen its share of visitors and family members, relaxing and playing on its wide and lengthy deck. IMG_2494

A short walk from the home, across a field which has seen more than a 170 years of planting and harvesting, lays a family cemetery. Hidden in the middle of a grove of trees and covered by decades of overgrowth and neglect, the cemetery is invisible during the summer months. Only two headstones remain above ground, although I believe there are more which have fallen to the effects of time and to the earth which has once again erased the intrusion upon its land.

The broken headstone of Mary Henry Ware

The broken headstone of Mary Henry Ware

Both stones mark the final resting place of beloved children. The larger stone, which is approximately 48 x 24 inches, is broken into two pieces and pays tribute to Mary Henry, the infant daughter of Henry Briton Ware and his wife Mary Caroline. Little Mary Henry died at the age of 17 months from malaria. Her commanding stone reads

Interred in this spot
where reposes the body of
Mary Henry
infant daughter of Henry Briton
Ware and Mary Caroline his wife

she died after one weeks illness
of congestive fever 22nd day of
Aug. the year of our lord 1830
Died 1 year and 5 months

Jesus said suffer little children
and forbid them not to come
unto me for of such is the kingdom of Heaven

The headstone of Pannie Ware

The headstone of Pannie Ware

The second headstone is much smaller, approximately 24 x 18 inches and in immaculate condition, probably due to the fact that it was leaning slightly over, which prevented the weather from hitting it directly. The white marble stone is beautifully simple, but shows the love her parents had for their precious toddler.

The first words my eyes were drawn to were Papas Baby.

Papa’s baby was a three-year-old named Pannie Ware who was born on Saturday, January 17, 1880, the youngest child of Joseph Henry and Mary Speed Boyd Ware.  She died on Nov. 8, 1883 of unknown causes.

I have been haunted by this stone and its words all day…

PAPAS BABY

What misfortune happened to little Pannie that took her away from her Papa?

I had to find out more about Pannie Ware, so I began my search on Ancestry.com for records of her life. But there are none.

Not a birth record.

Not a death record.

Not even a census record.

Nothing but a headstone.

I came across her family in the 1880 census for Stanton, Haywood County. The census was taken on June 28, 1880 and shows Pannie’s father, Joseph Henry, mother, Mary Boyd and siblings Annie Boyd – 12, William S. – 10, John B. – 8, Grace Arlington – 7, five-year-old James G. “Jimmy” and two-year-old Joseph Henry, Jr. –  7. Also included on the census were 16-year old W.P. Burns, 18-year-old Kate Bryne, a school teacher, field hand 19-year old Lee Nelson and 25-year old widow E. Nelson who served as the family’s cook.

But no Pannie. She would have been six-months old, so why wasn’t she recorded on the census?

This oversight is actually quite grievous. Because of the era of her birth and her age at death, little Pannie Ware has fallen through the crack of life to the obscurity of death and to that abyss that many genealogists dread – the all too common, unaccounted and many times record-less period of time for children that occurs between federal censuses.

No one remembers or even knew she existed. 

Research on Ancestry.com reveals many family genealogists working on the various branches of her family tree. They account for her parents and her siblings, but not one family genealogy tree accounted for little Pannie Ware. Not even a listing of “unknown child.”

And that breaks my heart.

Her parents have long gone, as well as her siblings. And unless there is a family Bible handed down through the generations which holds the record of her birth, ensuing generations have probably never even heard of her.

It’s a miracle that her final resting area was found on a back road in a town on the edge of existence, in the middle of a field surrounded by a grove of overgrown trees and debris.

I believe her marker, quite possibly the only record of her short life and the love her parents felt for her, was kept pristine for the past 133 years so that one day, she would be found and once again remembered.

Papa’s Baby… I remember and I promise I’ll never forget.

Disclaimer:  2/5/2013 – The current owners have now posted “No Trespassing” signs on the property and have stated they do not want anyone on the property, to enter the home or to visit the cemetery.


A Christmas Gift

First of all Happy New Year! Tonight to celebrate, I decided to research a small Bible I had acquired and am ashamed to discover it has been 11 months since I have written… don’t know what I have been doing… well, yes, I do know. Living life but I have no idea where 2012 went and now we’re at 2013. My New Year’s resolution is to write at a minimum ONCE PER WEEK!  Okay, now on to my historical hunt and story for today.

With love from Mother

I love to purchase old items that I find with names in them. I enjoy researching the names and trying to discover who the previous owners were and to learn a small semblance of what their lives may have been like. After I’ve figure out a bit about their lives, I try to find current family members and work to reunited the items with the original owner’s family.

inscription

Tonight, to start off the new year, I researched the name of Miss Fannie I. Elliott, the name I found written in a small bible I discovered in a local antique store. On the facing page of the cover was the inscription, “Fannie I. Elliott A Christmas gift from her mother. Dec. 25th, 1884″ I wanted to find out who Fannie I. Elliott and her mother were.

bibleThe book was with a batch of items that came from Ohio, so when I entered Fannie’s name into Ancestry.com’s search engine, I felt pretty good when the name appeared in Dover, Cuyahoga, Ohio. I was even more convince I had the right person after checking and linking other possible connections and family trees.

New Beginnings

Fannie Idella Elliott was born on Feb. 21, 1866 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio to William George Elliott (Dec. 16, 1824 – Nov. 7, 1897) and Louisa Parfitt (May 5, 1825 – June 4, 1900). She was either the eighth or ninth child born to the couple, as she was a twin. Her sister was named Anna Luella. Her parents were both born in England. I discovered a christening record for her father for Jan. 2, 1825 in East Knoyle, Wiltshire, England naming him as the son of Jacob Elliot and Susanna and one for her mother, the daughter of James Parfitt and Mary, christened on 26 Jun 1825 in Bruton, Somerset, England.

Family genealogy trees located on the web all purported that Fannie’s parents were married in Dover, Cuyahoga, Ohio on Sept. 16, 1847, but while researching each of their 10 children, the oldest, Frank Riddle Elliot, is reported to have been born in England according to both his death certificate and christening registration, although the name on the christening registration lists his name as Riddle Frank Elliot, christened on Dec. 10, 1848 at Brewham, Somerset, England to William and Louisa. This could mean a couple of things… the family history trees have the marriage location wrong, the family traveled back to their home country and the babe was born in England while on the visit or Frank was born in England before they left but his parents weren’t married and they lied on the christening registration, and quite possibly, that could be why they left England.

William and Louisa, in addition to the twins and Frank (Nov. 6, 1848-Oct. 7, 1909), were the parents of James John Elliot (Jan. 18, 1850 – June 6, 1931), Sarah M. (1853-1932), Fred (1855-1930), Lettia Louisa (1858-1943), Thomas Henry (abt 1860 – ?), Gilbert Willson (July 5, 1863 – May 21, 1946) and Walter Edward (Sept. 1, 1868-Oct.1, 1951).

1860UnitedStatesFederalCensus_300638096

1860 federal census showing William Elliot and his family

On June 8, 1860, the census taker recorded William Elliot and his wife Louisa were living in Dover, Cuyahoga, Ohio with their children Frank, 11; James, 9; Sarah, 7; Fred, 5 and Lettie, 2. All the children, including Frank, were listed as being born in Ohio.

1870UnitedStatesFederalCensus

The 1870 census taken in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

The 1870 census shows the reality of the times of the building of America. Each family listed on the census form along with the Elliot family was an immigrant family, with every head of household affirming they were born in England, Germany or France. The ninth US census shows the family still living in Dover, Cuyahoga, Ohio but with additional children. Living in the home are William, 47 and his wife Louisa, 45; son Frank, 21, whose birth, along with his parents, are listed as in England, James, 19; Sarah, 17; Fred, 14; Lettie, 12; Henry, 9; Gilbert, 6; twins Anna and Fanny, 4 and one-year old Walter. William, as a farmer, was able to give his family a comfortable living as evidenced by the value of his real estate, $7,300 and his personal estate was valued at $1,00.

William Elliott and family in 1880 Federal Census Cuyahoga County, Ohio

William Elliott and family in 1880 Federal Census Cuyahoga County, Ohio

According to the 1880 US Federal Census, the Elliott family was living in North Olmsted, Cuyahoga, Ohio. William and Louisa are both 55 years of age and living at home were James J., 29; Thomas H. 19; Gilbert W. 16; Anna L. 14; Fannie I. 14 and Walter aged 11.

When Fannie was 18 she was given the bible, a copy of the New Testament published by the American Bible Society in 1872, on Dec. 25, 1884 according to the inscription written by her mother. I’m going to assume that since she was a twin, her mother Louisa, probably gave her sister Anne a bible as well. The bible’s pages are in remarkable condition, considering its 141 years, and unfortunately, I believe that’s from its lack of use.

BibleLeaf

A New Generation

By the time Christmas rolled around the following year, Fannie had become the bride of Walter R. Keyes (1864-Jan. 9, 1938) at the age of 19. They married on Dec. 24, 1885 in Rockport Township, Cuyahoga, Ohio. There is a notation on the marriage certificate that the consent can be found on doc. no. N, No. 1 file. Walter Keyes is the son of James H. Keyes from Gloucester, England and Martha J. Wilde of Scotland.

Marriage certificate for Fannie Elliott and Walter Keyes

Marriage certificate for Fannie Elliott and Walter Keyes

The young couple started their family with the birth of a daughter, Luella M. (1887-1947). A second daughter, Alta Keyes, was born on Aug. 12, 1888 in Rockport, Cuyahoga, Ohio and died before she was two. A son, Howard, was born on 1891, followed by Ada R. (1894-1936); Walter J. (1897-1980); Melvin (1900-1980) and baby Everest who was born in 1902 and died the following year.

1900UnitedStatesFederalCensusWalter was a hardware clerk in 1900 and the family lived in Rocky River, Cuyahoga. The 1900 federal census shows that Walter and Fannie had been married for 15 years and she was the mother of six children, with five of them living. The family had a 25-year old servant living with them named William E. Baker.

In 1910, the family is still living in Rocky River, Ohio next to Walter’s younger brother Edward and his family. Walter and Fannie were now 45 and 44 years of age respectively and had recorded on the census as having another child who had been born and died. Walter was listed as a hardware merchant, son Howard was a salesperson, working alongside his father and 16-year old daughter Ada/Ida was a bookkeeper for a local coal company.

Fannie and Walter Keyes in 1910

Fannie and Walter Keyes in 1910

Fannie and Walter were present at the weddings of their children, including Howard, who married Alma L. Mireau on June 3, 1912 and Ada, who became the bride of Arthur H. Hoag on Aug. 9, 1917.

The 1920 census shows the family living on Chapel Road in Madison Township, Lake County, Ohio. Only Walter, Fannie and their youngest son Walter, 21, are living in the home. In 1920, Walter has left the hardware business and lists his occupation as farmer and the son is a bank teller. The family is doing well and own their home free and clear.

Walter & Fannie living alone in 1930

Walter & Fannie living alone in 1930

The 1930 census shows that Walter and Fannie are in their mid-60s and are living alone back in Cuyahoga County. Walter is no longer working and they also own this home, located at 194 Loraine St., free and clear.

Although I have been able to locate the death certificate numbers for Fannie and Walter, I have been unable to find a copy of their actual certificates. Fannie I. Elliot Keyes died on July 5, 1932 at the age of 66. Walter passes a few years later on Jan. 9, 1938 at the age of 74. Fannie’s twin sister, Anna Luella married Bertrand H. Perrin and died on Oct. 16, 1938 in Geneva, Ashtabula, Ohio.

Death certificate of Anna Luella Elliott Perrin, twin sister of Fanny Idella Elliott Keyes.

Death certificate of Anna Luella Elliott Perrin, twin sister of Fanny Idella Elliott Keyes.


In awe of the past

I have been spending the past 10 days on a dream vacation…. a week of research at the world’s largest genealogical library – The Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It’s been a week with no children, no husband, no work (well, almost… I still wrote a couple of stories for this week’s Leader), and almost no school (online classes ;-))

And even with that little bit of work and school I had to do, I have had an AMAZING week! Ten to 12 hours a day of researching, give or take an hour depending on if I remembered to stop to eat. I have scoured through books written in the mid-1800s, examined Internet resources which made available documents and newspapers from all over the world from the past four centuries and my favorite – microfilms documenting marriages, births, deaths, military service and censuses, some as early as 1712! This trip I have visited Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, India, Switzerland and England, all without leaving the warmth of the library.

There is something about being able to view an original document which exists as testament to the life of your ancestors. On my last trip in July, I located the 1827 marriage certificate of my 4th great-grandparents, William and Celinda Court Brown and the 1844 marriage certificate of my 3rd great-grandparents, Francis and Celinda Brown Clough from BOMBAY, INDIA… Talk about an amazing feeling! This time, I found banns (wedding announcements) and death notices written in French from my PANCHAUD line in Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland from 1712… pouvez-vous dire merveilleux?

Death certificate of Jean Francois Panchaud

Death certificate of Mary Roberts

Death certificate of 11 month-old Mary Roberts

I also found the death records of my great-great-grandmother’s first husband and their daughter, my great-great-great-great auntie, who both died in Bombay, India in 1869, just five months apart from each other. Her husband of less than two years, Robert Clifton Roberts was 34 years old and died from an abscessed wound. He was thought of very highly in his community and the local newspaper, The Times of India, reported on Mar. 1, 1869 that his death was sincerely regretted. My 11-month-old auntie, Mary Roberts, died from convulsions. Finding their death notices helped explain why my great-great grandmother left her home and her family and traveled thousands of miles to England in the 1870s after spending her entire life in India. I can imagine how distraught she must have been to have lost her husband and baby within months of each other. She probably was trying to get away from the place that held so much pain for her, even though it was the place of her birth. But at the same time, even though I feel sadness at their passing and what could have been, when I look at those records I can’t help but think if they hadn’t died, I would not be here today. Because it was their deaths that drove my gggrandmother to England where she met my gggrandfather, and in turn, begat my line.

I also learned some American history this week. I located a census of the Indiana Territory for 1807 which listed every free white man living in the territory before it was a state. There was only 616 names on the list! I find that simply incredible that I have a document in my hands that list every single person living in the state of Indiana, before it was a state, and there’s just over 600 names on the list! My sixth-great grandfather, Alexander Guard and two of his sons, David (my 5th great grandfather) and Timothy were listed on the census. They had traveled from New Jersey with their families after the Revolutionary War by following the Ohio River, arriving at North Bend, Ohio in the spring of 1790 and moved to, what is now Dearborn County, Ind. in 1796.

There is so much history to be learned by digging up the past – The history of our ancestors and of our descendants. The reason we are here and the path we are taking. Genealogy is the map to discovering our history. Give it a try and learn the stories of your past.


Seeking the truth… the Agrue Murders

I can’t believe the interest shown in the murders of Johnson and Nina Agrue, their sons William and Leo and their 11 year-old granddaughter Mary Breeden on May 16, 1941 in Dearborn County, Indiana. I started researching the tale a few years ago when my mother told me the story as she knew it, hearing it from her mother. It wasn’t talked about much in my family. Little Mary was the daughter of my great-uncle Oakley Breeden and my first cousin once removed. Her father and my grandmother were siblings and after the murder, family members said he distanced himself from everyone.

I’ve managed to gather quite a bit of info, but there is more out there. I haven’t been able to work on my research consistently for the past couple of years, but the response I have been getting lately from other family members has renewed my interest and renewed my dedication to get to the bottom of the story.

Stay tune… more is definitely coming!


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