Invitation to Dinner

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Elmer Grunst 1901 – 1965

If I could invite any ancestor to dinner it would not be one of mine, but one of my husbands.  I would invite his father.  The reason is that I never met him.  I knew the rest of the family, but he passed away before I met my husband.  My husband’s family consisted of four boys and one girl.  The children were spread over 20 years, my husband being the youngest.

I would set the table with my best china and silverware and make his favorite dish, if I knew what it was.  I only know what I have heard from my husband and other relatives. Sometimes the stories I have heard contradict themselves.  During dinner, I would ask a couple of questions about his life, and hope that by asking a couple of questions the conversation would evolve and he would just voluntarily offer information.  I would not want it to seem like an interrogation.  I would want to enjoy his company, and I would tell him about our life and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I would tell him that he should be proud that he raised a good daughter and sons, especially my husband.  He would probably know how the older ones turned out, and he might have a good idea how my husband turned out too.  But I would tell him anyway.  I would like to observe my husband and his father together, and hear them reminisce.  Below is a list of questions I would like to ask him.  I have asked my husband some of these questions, but he doesn’t know or has forgotten.

  • What was it like growing up during the early 1900’s?
  • I know your parent’s lived in Chicago and moved to Cicero. Do you know what year they moved to Cicero?
  • Did they own their own house or rent?
  • What was the house like?
  • Did you go to school in Cicero?
  • Which school did you go to?
  • How far did you go in school?
  • What were your favorite subjects?
  • What games did you play as a kid?
  • Did you have a best friend? What was his name?
  • How close were you with your brothers and sisters?
  • Did you go to Church?
  • What was your religion growing up?
  • Did you change religions when you got married?
  • Did you make your older children go to church?
  • If so, what church did they attend?
  • Did your parents talk about coming to America?
  • If so, what was their experience and why did they leave the country of their origin?
  • What country, province, and town did they come from?
  • Do you know how your parents met?
  • Did you have Aunts and Uncles and what were their names?
  • Did you have cousins and did you associate with them?
  • Tell me about your parents.
  • When did you learn to drive?
  • What was your first car?
  • How did you meet Alice?
  • How did it feel to get married at 19 years old?
  • How did it feel to be a father at 20?
  • What kind of job did you have at that time?
  • Where did you live?
  • When did you move to Berwyn?
  • What were your favorite pastimes/hobbies?
  • Did you like sports?
  • What were your favorite foods and drink?
  • Did you like your job at Western Electric?
  • Did the Depression affect you at all?
  • What was it like to have two sons in World War II?
  • Are you conservative or liberal?
  • Who did you vote for over the years?
  • What did you think when you learned you were going to be a father again at 40?
  • Do you have any regrets about your life?
  • Would you have done anything differently, if you could do it again?

That seems like a lot of questions, and I probably wouldn’t have to ask them all.  Like I said, I would hope by asking about one or two it would lead the conversation around to some of the questions being answered naturally in the course of the conversation.  Our evening would end with hug and a promise to do this again.  Over time and several dinners we would get to know one another and feel comfortable with each other.  He would tell more stories and more of my questions would be answered.

This is a typical genealogical interview leaving out questions about vital statistics because I already have that information.  I have found that I get much more information out of people if I ask a couple of questions and let them talk.

This is a lesson for all of us to ask our older family member these questions or ones like them before it’s too late.  Also, it might be a good idea to record your own answers to questions like the ones above for your children and their children.  A good book to get you started is To Our Children’s Children by Bob Greene.  He has a lot of questions in his book to get you thinking. Many times we are so busy digging into our ancestors lives, we don’t write down our own stories.  This is a reminder to me too, to get busy on mine. Happy writing!

*Week four challenge Dinner Invite  52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

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