Sunday, May 31, 2015

If You Could Chat with An Ancestor....

With church in the morning, my Sunday afternoons are usually quiet, leisurely, and restful.  They are the perfect time to think about my ancestors.  Today I'm envisioning a visit with my great-great-grandmother Rebecca (Smith) Bartley.  I know her birth date (1820), marriage date (to Dixon Bartley in 1836/38), and death date (December 1899), and where she and Dixon lived.  I also know that there was a very large golden wedding anniversary party for her and Dixon in July, 1888.  But I know little else about her.  Nothing of her appearance, her personality, education, beliefs, nor, especially, the essence of her:  who she was/is. 

If I could visit with Grandmother Bartley, I hope the conversation would cross boundaries of times and interests.  I would ask her about her childhood:  her interests, activities, chores, hobbies.  I would want to know whether she attended school and about the things she learned from her mother.  I hope we would talk about courtship and marriage, and becoming a wife, household management, and her daily schedule -- how she arranged the necessities of her days.  I would like to hear about her becoming a mother, and her thoughts on raising children.  (How did she manage diapering, infant cleanliness, and keeping children away from hot stoves and fires?)  I would especially like to learn about any handwork she might have done:  sewing clothes, knitting, crocheting, quilting.  Did she spin her own wool?  I hope we could touch on her religious beliefs.  Rebecca was a married lady during the Civil War living in a Union state.  I would like to know about that experience.  I would also like to hear details about their golden wedding anniversary celebration.  And so much more.

If I knew I would have an opportunity to chat with Rebecca for an hour, I would make a list of questions and add to it until the moment of our visit.   And, of course, as we visited I'm sure more questions would come to mind.  I think the visit would last longer than an hour.  (I'm imagining an older Rebecca with time on her hands to sit and talk for a good long while.)

If you could chat with an ancestor for an hour, who would it be and what questions would you have?


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  1. One? Only one? I guess I would have a chat with Nancy Walker Jollett, my 4X great-grandmother. I'd certainly ask about her parents since Walker researchers don't seem to know of her existence. And I'd ask about some of the children who have presented such big question marks in my research. Like you, I'd like to know what it was like to live in the early 1800s when the country was still new. They were neighbors of James Madison and Zachary Taylor -- did they know them?

    1. Your Nancy sounds like an interesting ancestor to choose, Wendy. It's strange that other researchers aren't aware of her. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were so easy to clarify individuals and relationships in families?!

      I didn't mention the questions I would ask Rebecca about her parents, siblings, and children. I wouldn't want her to think those were my only interests in visiting with her, but I would certainly want to learn as much about her family as possible, and especially her mother since there's some question about who she is.

      No, not just one ancestor -- just one at a time. If I chatted with too many at the same time or in quick succession, I might not keep all the information they share straight! I may turn this into a Sunday series so I could converse with more ancestors. If only!

  2. I would chat with my husbands 3x great grandfather Thomas Coleman. I would first ask him his wifes name and who in the world was his father. I have theories who is father was and no idea about his wife. I have been searching for this information for years.

    1. If only we could really have conversations with our ancestors, it would solve a lot of problems and make our family history research a little (maybe a lot?) easier.

  3. Nancy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!


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