A lot of the questions are geared toward writing – questions about our main characters or setting, other pieces of our stories. The questions often make me think about things I likely wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve even realized similarities between my manuscripts (like how I’ve got two important characters in separate stories that are caterers and one in a third story that is a café owner – I certainly hadn’t gone into writing intending so many characters to be centered around food).
This gave me pause. Without the time requirement, I would have said my maternal great-grandmother. I knew her as a kid, in the way kids know their elders – not all that well. I knew she had knit my baby blanket (and later would learn she did so while recovering from breast cancer surgery). I knew she could out-polka all of the men in my family (she was American-born to parents who had grown up in Poland). I knew how much she liked it when we’d pick her up from her assisted living facility and take her for ice cream. I was seven when she died, and I would love the opportunity to sit down with her when she was around my age now so that we could have a conversation as adults. But she wasn’t alive yet 150 years ago.
Depending which branch of my family tree you follow, I am anywhere from a fourth to a sixth generation U.S. citizen. An IL, U.S., citizen at that – my ancestors all made a beeline for the city of Chicago (though one came by way of Canada to Iowa to Chicago). Even so, 150 years ago, most of my ancestors probably didn’t speak English. At least not well. My best chance would be my great-great-great grandmother Bridgette Dignan who was born in Ireland and eventually moved to Chicago (and married that Canadian/Iowan ancestor). She would have been twelve 150 years ago.
I realize how lucky I am to know where my family was 150 years ago and, on some branches, further back. I also feel lucky to have had someone on both sides of my family that was interested in ancestry and did the work to gather all this information into the two books I have sitting on my shelf – so that I could just roll over and check who was around 150 years ago.