10 questions everyone should ask

Here are ten questions that everyone should ask themselves, their parents or grandparents.

My parents died way to early. At the age of 29 I was the oldest living member of our closest family. One night my brothers and I discussed family relations. We soon realised how little we knew. That is when I started looking into my genealogy.

Having worked on my genealogy for many years, sometimes struggling to find answers, I have often though; “Dad knew this”, “Grandma could tell me this”, “I wish I had asked them”.

Most people start with their genealogy when it is too late to ask these questions.

Some of these are not only headstones but also parts of  brickwalls

Sometimes I ask you to share my articles with your genealogy friends. This time I ask you to share the article with all your friends and family, especially those who are not yet genealogists.

There are many good reasons for putting off looking into the family history. Writing family history does take time. Getting an education, starting a carriere or raising kids may not leave you with the necessary time. However, most of us will be able to answer these questions in the time it takes us to drink a cup of coffee. You can also quickly cover them when you talk to your parents or grandparents.

Here is my suggestion to ten questions that will preserve the most vital information about your family history

  1. What is your full name? (include maiden name for women.)
  2. When and where were you born?
  3. What was the name of your parents?
  4. When and where were they born?
  5. When and where did they die?
  6. Where do you/have you live(ed)?
  7. What schools have you attended?
  8. What jobs have you had?
  9. How did you meet your spouse?
  10. When and where did you get married?

In cases where our parents/grandparents have passed, we might know what they would have answered to these questions. Write down the information you know they would have shared. In addition to this you can write down anything else you know that is relevant to your family history.

Some of you might argue that most of this is questions we can find answered in public records. That is right, but often we need a pointer as to what area/records to look at. This is especially important when your ancestor was an immigrant.

You might go on to say that it is all the other information, not preserved in records, that is the most interesting. You are right again. However, if we don’t have the information yielded from these questions, we have no persons to relate “all the other information” to.

The point of keeping it down to ten questions is to make it a task that is not overwhelming and thus, is being put off.

All you need to gather this information is a pen and a piece of paper. You can also go to my Download section and download the Four generation pedigree chart and/or Family group record. These can either be printed and filled in by hand, or you can fill them in on-screen and keep them on your computer (remember to give each copy of the form you save a separate name). My advice, as computers sometimes crash, is that you print the filled in forms. No matter what method you use, save the papers together with your households other important paper, maybe even in the safe deposit box.

If you later decide to look into your family history, this information will be a great starting point. If you don’t get it done, this information will be a treasure for a future family historian.

If this article has sparked an interest in family history, you might want to have a look at my section For beginners with articles that guides you through the first steps in genealogy.


2 thoughts on “10 questions everyone should ask

  • October 20, 2017 at 1:05 am


    Your 10 questions are great! My mother died in 2016 at age 100 and 11 months, my father in 2000 at 84. When my brother and sister and I were kids and would go on trips–whether across town, which we did almost weekly, to visit my mother’s Norwegian-American parents, or hundreds of miles–they often told us family stories. I think they did it partly to keep us occupied, or to put us to sleep if it was past our bedtimes. Some of the same stories got repeated, partly because we asked, things like “Tell us how you met” over and over. But I have no idea how either pair of grandparents met, except that they lived in the same small towns. Because of those conversations, I could fill in lots of those questions off the top of my head. But it’s amazing how many holes there are, even in just those 10, for my parents. And I’ve been doing genealogy for more than 20 years!

    So far, nobody in the next generation seems very interested in family history. I do not have children, and when I got divorced, I took back my maiden name. I now live in the same city I was born in, but in the middle I spent 28 yrs living in many other places, for jos or school. When I returned to my birthplace, I was retired. I’m not close to my nephews and nieces. So if any of them got interested, I doubt they would know much about me. They would probably think I’ve always lived in one place, and never married! Unless I write it down. I was in a creative writing class for more than 10 yrs, where I wrote a lot about my earlier life, and about my family. I’d better make sure that in addition to the 10 questions, those papers are where the family will find them!

    I could and should write down the answers to your 10 questions. I know the answers for my parents, siblings, both sets of grandparents (except for how they met), and lots of my aunts and uncles and first cousins. But it’s surprising how many holes there are in what I know about my first cousins.

    Thanks for a thoughtful and thought provoking article!

    Seattle, Washington, USA


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this. Cookies are only used for traffic measuring. No single user can be identified from these cookies.