Listen and Learn from your Elders

Let me tell you something. You can spend hours and hours pouring over census documents, birth records, death records, marriage records, baptisms, burials and more to retrieve the most basic of information about your ancestors. You’ll learn their birth years, how big their families were, what they did for a living, where they lived and more. It’s all great and relevant information but it just doesn’t replace first hand experiences and stories from the past.

A while back I had made a post about finding someone’s biological grandparents. I’ll link that post here so you can go check it out! Quite a whirlwind experience. Together my second cousin and I spent hours trying to track down living members of her immediate family and we finally managed to find them living only a few hours away. She was floored.

Once we introduced ourselves and let her family realize who we were, we got talking about anything and everything and boy did her relative have a lot to say. We were speaking with my cousin’s older half sister, Marilyn. Marilyn told us she knew of my cousin and this was quite a shock on its own. Once they processed this, Marilyn shared a lot about her past and what it was like growing up in Toronto.

Marilyn was born in the 1930s during the Great Depression. She was the eldest of four, two brothers and a sister formed her family. She spoke fondly of her childhood, and recounted a lot of injustices she faced back then.

“Nothing’s as bad as potato week,” she said randomly during our Facebook messenger conversation one day. “One time I lost our ration cards. Back during the war everything was rationed. We would get little tickets for things like bread, flour, milk and eggs. It was my job to go and get the rations that week. I lost the booklet with all our rations in it and we had to survive on only potatoes for an entire week.”

These are the sorts of stories you could only read in historical fiction novels and my cousin and I were lucky enough to hear about it first hand. It was amazing to hear the struggles our family went through and to see how they survived. I couldn’t help but ask her for more, and although she wasn’t directly related to me she had met my grandmother and was able to tell me what she was like. My grandmother died three years before I was born so I was never able to meet her. From what I’ve heard from nearly everyone I met, my grandmother was one of the most kind hearted, loving souls you would ever meet. I really wish I could’ve met her in person. Hearing others speak about me allows to me to connect with her even though she’s been gone for over thirty years.

It’s so important to ask all these questions while you still can. Engage with the older generation. Ask them questions. Ask them for all the information they have. Once they leave this world, all their unheard stories are lost forever. Take advantage and let the elders tell you everything they know – they’ll love it, it’ll bond you and you’ll find out information you never knew they had.

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