Be a Pest, But Be Nice!

Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: January 1, 2005

You got together with Grammy at Thanksgiving and asked a number of questions and carefully recorded what she shared. You’re elated with the information and congratulate yourself for having finally done it! Great! Now do it again. Yes, do it again!

Don’t ask just once. I know, you don’t like being a pest. But sometimes it is necessary. And one of the biggest areas that it can be of benefit is when dealing with genealogy and family history. You may be surprised over the number of differences in information you get when compared to the first time. But of more importance is getting the new and additional information. Memories are triggered by different things. And sometimes the trigger takes a while to make things happen.

One way of easing the pest portion of asking again is to blame yourself. "I couldn't read my notes!" is my favorite. This opens up your ability to ask questions again, using your notes to try and fill in names, places and dates. And it does it without making the other persons feel like you're trying to pump them again, even though your are!

How many times have you been unable to think of a name or a place? Only to have the answer come to you several hours later as you drive away? Or wake up in the middle of the night to remember it? That is one of the benefits of going back to the relative a few weeks later, or the next month. For whatever reason, thinking about the past starts to reconnect certain memories. And you want to take advantage of those re-connections.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have seen family members arguing over facts, even something as simple as their brother’s full name. But by asking the questions, and getting them to start thinking about it, they will move toward remembering. And if they are really sure about being right, they may even go to the trouble of finding proof! You may be presented with a birth certificate, or copy of an obituary or some other ‘proof’ of their being correct.

It always pays to be nice. Both to family members and other genealogists. Probably the best example of this was printing out the family tree of one branch of my family. My grandfather was married twice before he married my grandmother. The second marriage resulted in a son. We had little information on the first two wives, not even knowing the given name of the first, only knowing she was a sister of the second. But thanks to the internet, I found them!

My mother delivered the information to my Uncle, printed out in the standard family tree format. He looked it over and put it carefully aside to peruse later, but pointed to a picture frame and told my mother to give it to me. I found myself in possession of my great-great-grandfather and mother’s marriage certificate, complete with pictures of them at the time of their wedding! A treasure that I will always be glad to have.

So as you move into the new year, remember to ask questions more than once, share what you know, and always be nice!

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Updated on 10/25/2005