Category Archives: Questions for Ancestors

What Would You Ask Your Ancestors?

Thomas MacEntee sends out a weekly update of newly found blogs. Last week, Cousins by Margie Tolsdorf featured a post called Dear Cousins and My Other Followers (I Know of at Least One:)

Margie posed the question: If you could spend some time with your ancestors, what would you ask them? I don’t know about you, but I am often fixated on breaking down brick walls. Yet, we all want to know the stories of our ancestors so they aren’t just names, dates and places on a piece of paper (or in a software program shared on the cloud, as the case may be) so I loved this question.

I am going to take the position that this opportunity to meet with our ancestors only allows us to ask one question of each, so here are questions I would ask:

1. Grandmother Hazel – How did Grandfather get the nickname “Ducky,” which you always called  him? I asked my Aunt Carole, their daughter, and she said she didn’t know and hadn’t thought to ask her parents either.

2. 5x great grandfather, Loyalist John Adams –  Was your sacrifice worth it all – would you do it again if given the chance? The Adams family was comfortably settled in Fairfield County, CT at the beginning of the American Revolution. Loyalist John Adams gave up his home, friends and family in Connecticut and sailed for Canada in 1783. Life was very hard for this uprooted family who settled on Adams Island, New Brunswick. John was last mentioned in 1818, living on land that he didn’t own, implying that he was a squatter.

3. 2x great grandfather, Frits Wille Oscar Emil Jensen – Was life in Denmark so difficult at the time that you would have still emigrated to the United States had you known the heartache your family would suffer? The Jensen family left Copenhagen in 1884 for Calais, Maine. A daughter, Elfride, died soon after arriving in the U.S. Wife Margaret Bruun died six years later in 1890. Daughter Anna Elisabeth died in 1916 during surgery performed in her kitchen and son Henry died six weeks after his sister of tuberculosis. Frits outlived them all, passing away in November 1920.

4. 5x great grandfather James Astle – When/where were you born and who were your parents? I have to ask at least one brick wall question! James was a Loyalist who served with British forces in Schenectady, New York. In 1783, they evacuated to Canada. The Astle surname is quite rare in colonial times and I have found no clues as to his parentage or birthplace.

5. 5x great grandfather Anders Molin – When and where did you die? Okay, one more brick wall question. I can’t find him after 1786 when he had separated and/or divorced his wife, Sara Brita Krok in Sweden, and had reportedly died before Sara, who passed away in April 1812.

6. 8x great grandmother Elizabeth Knapp – Tell me the story of how you came to be possessed by the devil. Elizabeth Knapp of Groton, Massachusetts was a servant of Rev. Samuel Willard, who documented her “possession” from 30 October 1671 until 12 January 1672.

7. 4x great grandfather Joseph Coleman – Did your father die of yellow fever off the coast of Guinea in 1775? I believe that Joseph’s father was another Joseph Coleman from Nantucket, Massachusetts and is the same man who died at sea in 1775, but I can’t find any proof.

Meeting up with the Stufflebean ancestors, I would ask:

8. 3x great grandfather William Sturgell – Please share the mystery of the family into which you were born! The Sturgills were a large family who are poorly documented, owing to the fact that they lived in burned counties or on the frontier in the 1700’s.

9. 4x great grandmother Vianna Palmer – Why is the existence of your father only documented on the note provided to the county clerk giving his permission for you to marry? No stone has been left unturned, but absolutely no proof of the existence of Abraham Palmer, father of Vianna, has been found except for his 1822  permission note for her to marry, which was not in his own handwriting.

10. 2x great grandmother Matilda Peavler Stufflebean – How did your family live on after your husband, John Stufflebean, died in the Civil War? Records appear to show that the lives of Matilda and her children were torn apart after John died. I would love to hear the story of their lives after the war.

11. 4x great grandfather John Dulworth – Tell me the story of your life. John Dulworth is a German immigrant who was dropped off by aliens in Knox County, Tennessee in the 1790s.

12. 7x great grandfather John Nation – What was life like as an  indentured servant? I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a first hand account of life as an indentured servant. That is how John Nation came to live in the United States in the 1700’s.

13. 5x great grandmother Happy Rogers Riddle – Tell me the story of your family’s life during the Revolutionary War. Happy Rogers’ husband was William Riddle, a Tory, who reportedly was hung by patriots in the frontier land between Virginia and North Carolina.

14. 4x great grandfather Frederick Alberty – What was your life like in Europe before you immigrated to North Carolina? Frederick Alberty was born about 1740 and living in Surry County, North Carolina in the early 1770’s. There are many wild, undocumented stories about him being the son of an Italian noble, killing a man in a duel and having to flee Europe, etc. I would love to find details to establish the truth!

Okay, I limited myself to seven questions for each side of our family. Some are directly related to brick walls, but also would reveal a lot about choices these families made during their lives

What questions would you ask your ancestors?