When I started, quite honestly, I knew the first and last names of only two of my great grandparents – both on my Mother’s side of the family – William William Williams – her grandfather, who she never had met, and her other grandfather, John Delano Lutgens, who she did know because he lived with her parents and her brothers and sister as she grew up in West Oakland. I did remember Grandpa Heyman, my father’s grandfather, but didn’t know his first name. He was the only one of my great grandparents who was actually alive when I was – up until I was nine years old. All 5 of my remaining great grandparents were a total mystery to me. In fact I have no memory of anyone in my family even mentioning them – not necessarily because they led “bad” lives or had a sordid history – just because no one talked of them – and I don’t think it is because I wasn't a good listener.
My dear Mother passed in July, 2003. After her passing I became more interested, again not a passion but just interest.
You might ask – did you ask your Mother about any family history between 2002 and the date of her passing? And the answer is - NO! Do I regret not asking her? The answer is a resounding – YES!
I don’t know how many times I have said to myself – gee I wish I had been interested in this stuff about thirty years ago. It wouldn't change the fact that many of my close relatives were not in contact with even cousins or second cousins of their own (at least I wasn't aware of it – having not heard any of the names or at least no memory of hearing the names). But just maybe I would have heard more stories. Knowing where someone was born and exactly what date they were born is interesting – but hearing how they lived – and how they met their husband – or what they liked in school – or what games they played – or whether their father was loving or distant or their mother was a good cook or was a good businesswoman – that information you can’t find in a database.
TIP - THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL
Talk to your oldest relatives – interview them – ask them their stories – ask them about their grandparents, and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters. Where and how did they live, what was their vocation and their hobbies and what were they like. There are numerous sets of interview questions that you can find as a guide. But talk to them – they are the best source of stories. Now you will also find that they may not be the best source of facts – dates get mixed up, names are sometimes either wrong or spelled wrong. They are also the only ones who will be able to identify people in some of your old photos. But the fun of it is listening to them and it provides the bedrock of your research.
DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THEY ARE GONE – IT WILL BE TOO LATE!