Questions I Wish I’d Asked

Thanksgiving with Mershell and Fannie Graham - 1963.
In these photograph: Me, Aunt Abbie, Mershell C. Graham, My grandfather carving the turkey, I am eating and my sister is next to me on the other side of the table is my mother, my grandmother Fannie, her younger sister, Alice. My uncle Henry took the photographs.  Click to enlarge this photo.

The generations gathered around my Graham grandparents dining room table in 1963 for Thanksgiving dinner. There was turkey with cornbread dressing cooked by my grandfather. There was white rice, cranberry jelly, green beans, corn pudding and sweet potatoes. There was my grandmother’s finely chopped green salad and her homemade biscuits with butter and with a relish plate holding olives, sweet pickles and carrot sticks.

One thing there wasn’t, was talk about the old days. My grandparents were born in 1888.  My grandmother was born Fannie Turner in Lowndes County, Alabama. My grandfather was born Mershell Graham in Elmore County, Alabama.  They met and married in Montgomery.  My great great Aunt Abbie was born in 1877 in Montgomery, Alabama and was the second to youngest child of Dock and Eliza Allen. My mother told us stories she had heard from her mother, mainly about Dock and Eliza and their children. I remember once my older cousin was trimming Aunt Abbie’s toenails when Aunt Abbie mentioned that she used to trim her grandmother’s toenails when she was a girl. And that her grandmother also had arthritis.  I have always remembered that, but I didn’t ask any follow up questions about her grandmother, Annie Williams who was born a slave and was full grown and the mother of a fully grown woman when she was freed. And Aunt Abbie didn’t say anything else about it.

My grandfather, who we called Poppy, was a mystery. My mother only had little parts of stories she had gotten from her mother, things that just made the mystery deeper in most cases.  What were his siblings names and what happened to them? Are the ones I’ve found that I think are his siblings, really his siblings? In 1900, I found these possible siblings living with a man who is listed as their father but has a name not listed on any of their death certificates, was he their father with a different name?  And where was he, my grandfather, in 1900? Why wasn’t he there, or anywhere else I can find? Where was their mother?  What was the name of the little white girl he was servant of when he was a boy?  The one he slept on the floor outside of her bedroom door?  The one who changed his name from Michele to Mershell because Michele sounded too “foreign”? How did he learn to read?  Did he go to school? Did he know his grandparents and what plantation did his parents come off of? There was a photograph of his sister and her children in the album.  I would like to ask him what their names were.  Are they the ones I’ve found in the census?

I would like to ask my grandmother some of the same questions about her father’s family. Howard Turner died when she was 4 and her mother moved away from that community and went back to her family in Montgomery. I was able to find her father’s family because I knew his name, his age and the community he came from but I have no stories about his parents and siblings or what plantation they came off of. I only know that his father, Joseph Turner of Hayneville, Lowndes County was a farmer and owned his own land and had given his son some land which he didn’t want him to sell and the two of them argued about it.

When we went by my other grandparent’s house for desert I would ask where my grandfather’s mother, Celia Rice Cleage Sherman is buried. And why my grandmother Pearl thought her grandmother was Cherokee.

Unfortunately, I can’t go back to 1963 and sit around the table and steer the conversation around to who was where and when and  how and why.  I can only use the information I do have to keep looking and hope that one day some cousins from those mysterious lines will turn up and perhaps have some of the answers to my questions.


To read more stories about oral history from the Carnival, CLICK the icon.

This was written for the Blog Carnival “The Ancestors Told; the Elders Listened; We Pass It On”.

23 thoughts on “Questions I Wish I’d Asked

  1. Well said! Beautiful post. I too wish I could go back in time to so many family gatherings and ask so many questions.

  2. No matter how much we know about them, we still have so many questions. If only they were still here to answer. Beautiful pictures and post.

      1. My mother’s family are people who kept the information close. It is like pulling teeth from a hen dealing with them. They need to know what you intend to do with the information and why are you asking. You have to develope a relationship with them before they begin to share. They are so secretive.

  3. When I first decided to write I was thinking about those lines where I do know a lot, but I’ve written about them before and I couldn’t think of a new way to present the information that would make it more interesting. When I read George Geder’s post at I started thinking about the lines where I didn’t get much oral history and how I wish I had asked them some questions when I had the chance. When I read your post, Linda, at I wondered if I had hung around more with the adults in my mother’s family if I would have learned more about parts of the story my mother didn’t tell me. The kids tended to go off and play while the women talked and my grandfather, I’m not sure what he was doing because for years it was just women. I know my mother said Aunt Daisy and my Great grandmother Jennie were talkers but by the time I came along, we just stopped in for a visit on holidays and while we ate at my grandmother’s, they didn’t. Anyway, this did get me thinking.

    1. If I had to depend on my dad to tell me about his family, I would have little to nothing. Dad and his siblings grew up in an abusive environment and I think Aunt Rosie needed to talk. I saw Aunt Rosie almost everyday from childhood to early adulthood and she would talk about my grandmother’s sisters and the stories they told and about her own life. Uncle Jr was good with dates and telling me how someone was related but he didn’t like to talk. Aunt Alice and Uncle Ike avoided conversations about family. Aunt Rosie is the only person I have known that talked freely about family.

  4. Kristin,

    Sometimes I want to beat myself up for not asking the questions. Other times I want to blame my elders for not telling me things.

    Then, I’m reminded of my wanderlust and wanting to be outside. Did I make it easy for my parents – and one grandparent – to not share stories of the family with me; by going outside to the creek, river, railroad tracks, wild orchard and canyon?

    I don’t know if that is accurate. Like you, I can’t go back to 1963. I only have my memories, of that time, that have very little to do with my family.

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

    1. George,
      I know you’re right. I have lots of memories of that time and some that include my grandparents. I wouldn’t want to have missed those either.

      I have noticed that my grandchildren tend to go off together, away from the adults, once dinner is over. We’ll see if we can keep them there a little longer with some talk about Thanksgivings past to go with the cousins-in-the-present time.

      1. The same thing happens in my house. After dinner, we separate into our generations. I think I am going to work on my creative skills and learn to watch for opportunities to share.

  5. There’s so many questions, even tho my Parents told me a lot, I just got to follow up on so many things with them. As I child always sneaking and worrying abt not being to far away so that when they did talk of things of the past I would be right there. I just wish I had the sense to know to write it down back then. But most I haven’t forget. So like you, I do wish I could ask so many questions now and ask my Grandparents who were born in 1800’s alittle bit more. But we were taught to stay quiet. Thanks for reminding us there is still we can do to continue.

    1. True!,
      I guess all we can do now is try to pass some on to the next generations. I can hear my grandchildren in 40 years saying, “Didn’t grandma used to have a blog or something where she talked about the family? And what ever happened to all those binders she had? I wish I’d looked at one back in 2012.”

  6. I love reading yr blog. Our same questions and wishes, but too late.
    Lovely pics.
    Wouldn’t it be great to go back to 1900, to see and learn of our old families – the
    old and new generations there at the time! So many questions, so little time.
    Thankyou for sharing,
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Hi Kristin, great writing as usual! I started working on my family tree in 1989 and though I had both of my parents around at that time to ask questions, my family research was more of a hobby than anything at that time. My father passed away in 2010 and it was his death that has motivated me to take my family research to a whole new level. Oh how I wished I had taken my family history more seriously back then. Well, I am just so thankful that I am documenting my family history and preparing my story because of the three beautiful grand-daughters I have today. I am also very thankful that my mother, who’s in her eighties now, is alive, doing well and helps me a lot with information about my dad’s family. So for my national day of listening (tomorrow), I’m preparing to interview my mother so that I can preserve her words, thoughts, and stories for furture generations!

    1. Liv,
      That is a wonderful idea! Although my mother wrote lots of family history information while she was alive, I never recorded her. I would so love to hear her voice!

  8. As I was reading your story, I was thinking that all the tidbits I have gotten from my grandmother, parents, and other elders, I need to write them down instead of holding them in my memory bank. You have so much information on your family and pictures, so it still amazes that there is so much more you want to know. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Yvette,
      I think that’s a wonderful idea. Two wonderful ideas – write down what’s in your memory and interview those elders.

      I do have a lot of information, especially on two of my lines but there’s so much more that I don’t know. Over 100 years of potential knowledge that slipped away and has to be rebuilt bit by bit without those helpful hints that make it so much easier.

  9. I wish like you to ask all those wonderful questions of those we love. My heart is over flowing with the need to know. Thanks for sharing this my friend…

  10. Kristin,

    Thanks for sharing. There are so many times I had the opportunity to ask questions, but at the time had no interest. Oh, if you could only go back in time.

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