Thursday, January 23, 2020

Family Quiz

So it's time to think of all the things I'd like to ask the elder members of my family—at least, for the ones who are still with us. After all, come this weekend, I will have the opportunity to do so with a senior member of my father's side of the family. And that is the side with all the secrets and mystery identities. Surely, some additional clues can be harvested from this visit.

But...what to ask? After all, several of us cousins and assorted siblings have mulled over our joint dilemma for decades now—ever since that kid cousin of ours discovered my dad and his sis weren't Irish after all, but Polish. I've asked all the basic questions, and then racked my brain to come up with scenarios that might have been encountered by my grandparents if, indeed, those new reports were indeed correct. Questions like, "Did he have an accent?" After all, how could a man pass himself off as Irish if he were born and raised in Poland?

Putting myself in my ancestors' shoes is turning out to be a helpful technique. It at least has the virtue of helping me come up with more questions. Learning the history of the places where they supposedly originated also helps get the bigger picture, as does becoming more familiar with the local geography.

For this research trip, however, I am going to be quizzing my cousins about their cousins. Actually, I'll be asking them to recall the oldest of their relatives that they can still remember. After all, if I ask an eighty-year-old to tell me about the oldest relative he can remember from his childhood, that increases the reach of our oral history another couple generations. The personal remembrances reach far further than what I can glimpse of these people from the cut and dried reports from government documents.

My task for the next couple days, then, will be to compile a list of all the cousins on my father's side of the family that might have been alive during my cousins' lifetime. Perhaps names and locations will trigger memories. After all, it seems odd that our family would live in a complete vacuum. Since I've last visited this paternal cousin, I've learned that several relatives from both sides of my paternal grandparents' lines emigrated from Poland to various parts of New York. And then, too, there are those relatives of my grandfather's ill-fated mother who, as I discovered from DNA matches, ended up in Milwaukee. Why doesn't anyone in the family mention recalling those names?

It's a theory, so who knows the outcome of the experiment. But it's worth a try. Certainly worth the time to compile the list. If it doesn't yield any results, there will be plenty of other family history topics to discuss. After all, I only get to travel that way once in a long while. Every minute of our time will be valuable.


  1. I was trying to get more clues about my Irish relatives in New York, so I tried a technique like you've described on my aunt by asking her if her mother had ever talked much about her cousins. "Oh yes - Sadie." Yep, the one cousin I know something about. Figures. (That's not to discourage you from sticking to your plan.)

    1. Yep, I tried that approach last time, too, Wendy...with about the same results. The cousins remembered are the ones I had already heard about.

      I'm wondering if I switch the approach to spring actual names on them if that will ring a bell, even if they don't realize those people were cousins. I sometimes wonder if the FAN club's Friends, Associates and Neighbors don't turn out to be relatives in the long run--"kin," I believe Anne Mitchell calls them.

  2. Enjoy your visit, Jacqi! Can't wait to hear all about it.

    1. Thanks, Sandy! There is nothing like visiting with family!


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