Records were not kept with future genealogists in mind. Many of the things you would like to know about an ancestor may not have been documented. As genealogists, we sometimes feel like we have gotten to know our ancestors through the documents, but records still give us just a very partial idea about their lives.
As an exercise, please answer these five questions about yourself. Easy, right? Now try to answer these questions for an ancestor that you did not know in person but whom you have researched extensively and you will realize how much our research doesn’t tell us.
Who did you share a bed(room) with when you were growing up?
Like many children in the Netherlands born in the 1970s, I had my own bedroom. I am an only child, so there was no reason to share. For most of my ancestors, I don’t even know how many beds they had. Most of them probably had bedsteads in the walls of the kitchen or living area, not bedrooms like we know today. They probably shared the bedstead with other siblings or even their parents. Most of my ancestors were poor farmers so I can imagine that some of the older ones had to sleep in the attic above cows to keep warm if there weren’t enough bedsteads for the large families that some of them had.
What was your first major illness?
Mine was appendicitis when I was nine years old. I would not have survived had I been born a few centuries earlier. I know that some of my ancestors suffered from tuberculosis but I have no idea what other illnesses they may have overcome or succumbed to.
How did you meet your partner?
I met my husband in University, when we both studied Computer Science. For most of my ancestors, I do not know how they met. I did see that my great-great-grandparents Hoitink both worked as farm hand and maid on the same farm before they married, so I have a pretty good idea how these two got together, but they are the only ones. Most of them probably met because they grew up in the same neighborhood or went to the same church. But I also have people marrying a spouse from another village where I have no idea how they would have met.
Do you play an instrument?
I have been playing the piano since I was able to could climb up the piano stool at my grandparents’ house. I had lessons for over twelve years and still play. My grandmother played the violin when she was younger and sang in the church choir for most of her life. She even went ‘on tour’ when she was in her nineties, her choir visiting the nursing homes in the area. One distant cousin played the organ in the Winterswijk church in the 1600s, which I found out about in the church council minutes. So far, I have not come across any musical instruments in the inventories of my ancestors so I don’t know anything about the musicality of any my ancestors. Music was probably a luxury they could not afford, except for singing.
What is your favorite drink?
Mine is mango tea. One of my favorite finds is an 18th century estate inventory that showed that one of my ancestors owned multiple tea sets. Perhaps it runs in the family! Having a favorite drink is probably a very modern concept though, the result of the abundance of choices we have today.
What would you like to know?
Is there any sort of information you would like to know, that you can’t find in records?