Saturday, October 22, 2011


Question number 5.) of the Interview Question Form " ARE THERE ANY FAMILY STORIES OF INTEREST TO SHARE?"

You may wonder how this fits into developing your family tree.  Many people think of genealogy as finding the vital records of someone and then they are done with that person.  However, those birth, marriage, death dates, etc. are just the beginning!  There is a person behind those records who lived and breathed and walked this earth like you and I.  It is so fascinating to learn something new about an ancestor and as I continue to say, flesh them out as a person.  Naturally, photos are priceless!  But what if you have no photos, no painting, sketch or any representation of what your ancestor looked like?  Even if you do have a photo, what was their personality like?  That's where family stories can be priceless.

Let me give you an example of a story about one of my husband's ancestors.  His first name was Ara and he was an uncle to my mother-in-law.  She knew very little about him.  In fact, everyone I have ever talked to,  knew little about him.  That is even if they had heard of him.  What my mother-in-law did know is that Ara disappeared one day and was hardly heard from again, and never seen again.  She showed me a photo of him as a very young boy, but that was all I had to go on, until I interviewed her about him one evening.  As I kept asking questions, even though she didn't remember him, other little stories about him started coming back to her.  These were stories she had heard about from her grandfather and mother.  He came across from those stories as being adventurous, and maybe not one to take on a lot of responsibility very easily.   Then she remembered her grandfather talking about getting a letter from him.  I asked if she knew where it was from and she lit up and said, "Yes! California!"  But that was all she remembered of the location. 

With that little bit of info and knowing there was longevity in that line, I took a chance one day and did a search on the net in the late 1990's.  I decided to see what parts of California were a draw to adventurous types back in the late 1930's and early to mid 1940's.  I had a feeling this man would go for a get rich quick kind of lifestyle.  I found Butte County, California was a big draw at the time.  Then I did a search and sure enough, I found he had died in the mid-1970's and his last residence was Paradise, Butte Co, California!  I learned he had been married, but divorced his first wife.   Divorce would not have been accepted well in his family.  I felt at that time that was his reason for disappearing so many years ago and not letting anyone know where he was for so long.  His father was the patriarch of the family, so it made sense. 

I sent for his social security information which would have a lot of important data and found his work history from New York City to California.  I contacted the company he had worked for in both states, selling radio tubes from door to door.  Although they did not have any records to share, they were able to confirm what he would have been selling at that time.

A few years later, I found a fellow genealogist who did a lookup for me and sure enough, not only found the obituary for me, but sent me a photo of the gate to the cemetery and the obit for Ara's second wife that he married later in life!  I was able to share that with my mother-in-law and she felt at peace knowing the answer to the puzzle in the family for nearly 70 years!  After her passing, I found a lot of letters he had sent to his various relatives prior to leaving the area suddenly, and a few to his father about seven years after leaving the area.  One of those letters described his reasons for leaving, and indicated that, in fact, it was the shame he felt for not wanting to be married any longer to such a sweet woman as his first wife. 

So from a little bit of information, and a few stories about an individual, I was able to flesh out the story of Ara and the mystery behind his disappearance.  I also found photos, when I found the letters, of a very handsome young man who was full of life, but it appears stiffled in a little town.  I also found letters that indicated his father, my mother-in-law's grandfather, had never stopped looking for him during the years when he had no idea where his son had gone.  In the end, he never saw his son again, and passed on with having received very little further communication.  A bittersweet story.

Without my asking questions to spark memories, the mystery would remain today.  I hope this example shows you the significance of asking about family stories.

In my next posting, I will move on to Question number 6 of Interview Question Form.  That question covers health issues within the family. 

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