A Question or Two! What would you ask?


As a genealogist I often think of how to approach my research challenges. If I had the opportunity to ask an ancestor a couple of questions in an interview, what would I ask? Questions and answers might solve some of our genealogy challenges. Familytree Magazine did an article (http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/20-questions) on 20 questions when interviewing relatives. Sometimes when interviewing elders in the family, the less you ask the more you will receive. Conducting an interview is important especially when you realize you need to just shut up and let people tell it in their words. I am not sure I would ask 20 questions at one sitting, I would be so excited and want to ask tons of questions. But please realize you should take it slow.

So, what would I ask and who? Certainly I would ask the ancestors that I have a brick walls on. I believe there is an art to asking questions during an interview. The questions should be short and specific. This way the responses you receive should be direct and full of information. You want to remove any option for confusion why you are interviewing. Try not to create conflict or to dispute any information and just go after facts. Consider the responses as new leads!

For example, on my paternal side, my great grandfather is William Michael Murphy. I know absolutely nothing about him except he was supposedly married to my great grandmother Nellie McCorkle from Greenville, TN about 1866.

  • I would ask him where and when he was born
  • Who were his parent’s names?
  • Where did you die and where are you buried?

Just asking these questions, I would learn a location of his birth and the date. Also, what his parent’s name are. This would provide me more leads to get more information and would solve many questions and tear down the big wall of the unknown.

For my great grandmother Nellie McCorkle  I would ask:

  • What happened to your mother, Rose Henry McCorkle?
  • Who and where are your grandparents, the Henry’s and McCorkle’s?
  • What happened to your brother and sisters?
  • Where is your father, John McCorkle buried?

For Ambrose Cureton, born about 1840 either in Africa, who might of came to America as a 9 year old, TN or SC, is one of my great great grandfathers:

  • Where were you born and what is your parent’s name?
  • If born in Africa, where?
  • Do you have brothers and sisters and what are their names?
  • Who is Govan’s mother, where did she die?

For Anderson Russell, born about 1825 in TN or VA is my great great grandfather I would ask:

  • What are your parents names and where were you born?
  • Do you have any siblings, what are their names?
  • Did you serve in the Civil War?
  • Where you a slave and if so, who owned you or your family?
  • Where did you die and where are you buried?

On my maternal side for my great great grandfather George W. Marsh, who was born somewhere in Virginia about 1834, he is one of the slaves in our family. I would ask-

  • Where in Virginia where you born and who owned our family?
  • What were your parent’s names and where they born in Africa?
  • Do you have siblings and what are their names?

Malcolm School 1890 Manistee MIFamily Collection Photo: Malcolm School, Manistee Michigan (Marsh and Reed children are in the photo)

For my great great great grandfather Lawson Goings, born in 1807 in Loudoun Co, Virginia I would ask:

  • Who were your grandparents name and where did they come from?
  • Where are your parents, Joseph and Nancy (Winsor) Goings buried?
  • Where are you buried at?

lawson goens obit reprint 1944Lawson’s Obit , he died 12 July 1874, in Jefferson Spirit Newspaper,reprinted in 1944. What other information can I get from this obit?

I hope this helps you a bit they are things I just want to know. Wouldn’t this be amazing if we were able to do this? Who and what questions would you ask and why if you had the chance to interview an ancestor?

Know your Roots, they are Long and Strong!

About familytreegirl

Shelley Murphy, aka “familytreegirl”, a native of Michigan residing in Central Virginia, Shelley has been an avid genealogist for over 25+ years researching the Davis, Marsh, Goens/Goins/Goings, Roper, Boyer, Worden, Cureton, and Murphy family lines. She is a Coordinator and faculty for the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI), presents Genealogy 101 workshops at the local community college, state and national genealogy conferences. She holds a Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership and works as an adjunct professor for Averett University. Murphy is known for her inspiring and interactive “Getting Started” Methods and Strategies for genealogy research, “Time and File management” along with interesting problem-solving methodology lectures. Shelley currently has 20+ publications with Charlottesville Genealogy Examiner and the Central Virginia Heritage, a publication of the Central Virginia Genealogical Association. She is an instructor for the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI). Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, Adjunct Professor, Professional Genealogist. Volunteers for American Red Cross as a Disaster Services Instructor, facilitates financial education workshops for the last 8 years, and former licensed Real Estate Broker
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