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Education and Research Center
Thinking Exercises

What Would You Ask?

Many of us who become interested in learning more about our family's history often wait until it's too late to ask our family members questions about their lives.

If you could go back in time and ask each member of your family only ten questions, what would you ask?

Flora and Harry Ness and their Children
Brooklyn, New York
early 1920s
Living in America: The Jewish Experience,
Main Floor

Before Flora Burak and Harry Ness married in 1914, they had worked and lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They were not in the United States for that long, having arrived in the United States in 1907 and 1906, respectively.

After they wed, they moved into a cold-water flat in Lower Manhattan before moving into a tenement in nearby Kings County, or Brooklyn.

This is the only existing Ness family photograph showing the entire family. Each of the Nesses has a story to tell, each having lived their own uniquely interesting life.

Let's say that they were your grandparents and one of the three children in the photograph was your parent. If at the time this photograph was taken you could go back in time and ask each of them only ten questions in order to learn more about them, what questions would you ask?

How old are the children pictured here? What could you ask them that would allow you to learn the most about them and their very young lives?

What questions would be the most important for you to ask the parents, knowing that you can only ask each of them only ten questions?

In what ways are asking older people and children questions about their lives different?

Write down all your questions and review them from time to time. You're allowed to revise your question list whenever you wish.

The Ness Family from Brooklyn, cir 1921
Parents Flora (nee Burak) and Harry Ness (ne Avraham Chone Gniazdowicz); children Bernard, Arthur and Pearl

If you had the opportunity instead to ask your own grandparents (or parents, aunts or uncles) only ten questions, what you ask them? How about if you could ask them only ten questions? Would you ask them the same questions? How about if you were able to ask each of them questions fifty years later. How might your questions differ and why?



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