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Questions to Ask Older Family Before It's Too Late: Short Story; What Stories Could Your Grandparents Tell? Ask Now!


Ann loves writing about family & traditions connected with it. Ancestry is an important factor of who we are.

Set out in Sepia

Both sets of grandparents still occupy spaces in her heart; different spaces, different sizes. Set out before her in sepia, they watch her as they used to, with love, interest, enquiry and protection. A little later they gather in black and white, then later still in colour, just as they are in her mind, set for ever in those poses, in her memory, in her heart. They are dependable, they never change.

Why is it that she feels more for some of them than the others, guilty that she didn’t share out her love equally to all four? She has compensated in her mind now, understood the characters better, but she didn’t when it mattered, when they were there in her life, in reality.


Memory throws arbitrary scenes at her, flickers of film from the age of 3, one or two frames from babyhood, but it’s her father who throws reality at her now through his passion, his skill with the lense, the composition, the exposure. Some, later ones, spring from her own time-stopping push-clicks of the finger. Rarely, her father appears in front of the lense; more rarely, they are both there, together, as they were in interests, enthusiasm and spirit.

She sits and looks; she is not here, at her desk, when she looks. She is there, with them, asking all the questions that come too late.

Father & Daughter

What was she asking him then?

What was she asking him then?

Grandparents' Houses

She visits the street of houses all weary,

Victorian terrace with dark steps down,

down to the dungeon, dark and dreary,

up to the ‘drawing’ room, cold and brown.

Or bungalow airy, garden of flowers,

carrot tufts and dark green beet

She sees the furniture, the clocks, the silver.

She recalls the smells of meals to eat.

Cakes in the oven by the grate,

tripe in milk which stayed on the plate,

toasting fork holding bread to the flames,

bring back the joys, the tears and the names.


Gate to a Happy House

Gate to a Happy House

She sits in a dingy room

She sits in a dingy room


She revisits the freezing Victorian outside loo with the huge wooden seat which involved mountain climbing. The pantry is almost as cold, with a meshed window to the back garden, an area for keeping food fresh. Grandma M tells her only grandchild to eat the fish to improve her brain, to eat her greens so that her hair will curl. There are no remembered cuddles from Grandma M, though she was pleasant enough.

She watches Granddad M’s smoke rings after he drags his pipe, as she sits on his knee aged three and he tells her stories. He carries her out to the garden, attentive, loving, quiet and kind.

What was it like in the Home Guard, Granddad? What was it like to have breakfast on the seafront with Canadian soldiers who had ‘real’ eggs rather than egg powder? What was your childhood like, Granddad, with your brother and family?

What can you tell me?

Out in the Garden with Granddad

Out in the Garden with Granddad

Sewing with Grandma

Sewing with Grandma


She laughs with Granddad C at his sleight of hand and antics. He calls her ‘Fanny fernacklepan’. He tells her stories, though not about the part of his life she now wishes she’d asked about.

Tell me about your interrogation of that German soldier, Granddad; the one whom you befriended with a kind word and a cigarette. Tell me if you were an undercover agent in the Home Guard and how you learnt to speak German.

Little Grandma C fusses about by the stove, always gardening or making cakes, chuckling as she talked about this and that, entertaining her second granddaughter, sharp-eyed, dishing out lots of cuddles with the steaming bread.

Darkness & Light

She remembers the bus ride from the village into town; smelly, smoky bus, throwing them this way and that, to visit Grandma and Granddad M. She can feel the reticence to go down into the basement (front steps to the first floor were only for special occasions, for important people). Dark, foreboding rooms, sad for a child, dismal and cold.

She was scared to go in the front room; that was where grandma’s brother and his wife lived. He always had a fag on the go, you had to part the curtains of smoke to see anything, even then all was shrouded in pale grey. Aunt E was ok, quite perky considering but a little sharp, always spruce.

Why did they live with you, Grandma? What’s the story behind two so very different siblings?

The upstairs room held special objects. Silver teapot with pineapple top, ugly china dogs, beautiful deep blue vases. Best of all, a picture of her mother; long, fair, flowing curly hair to her waist, a serene face and mona lisa smile; the only photo in the house. She’s just realised the significance of that; she guesses it (she) was Granddad’s pride and joy. She knows they were close, that her mother adored him.

There they are, sitting with her, taking her as a baby out to the park. She has no idea where that is. Where did you take me, Grandma? Where did you like to go, Granddad? She can’t remember ever going out with them.

Granddad used to be there but not for long; when he went he took his gentleness and his piped smoke rings with him.

In the Park

Grandparents M - Where did they take her?

Grandparents M - Where did they take her?

Flowers & Fun

She remembers pushing through the gate of the bungalow, into the back garden to see vegetables and flowers. She anticipated the smiles, the laughs, the cuddles and the tricks; the fun.

How did you learn to garden, Grandma? Why do you like it? Do you read much? What are you interested in?

The smell of the cakes and bread always pervading the small kitchen, she smiles as she’s with them once more.

Memories of people who were always there, unquestioned; well, always in her memory at least.

Fun with Granddad


A Time Long Before

Then the sepia takes her back a little further, into time unknown. Grandma & Granddad C, yes, but such a formal pose, when photos were taken only for special occasions; weddings and Christenings.

Where did you meet? What were you doing? Did you ever have a job, Grandma? What was it like in the Navy, Granddad? What was it like at Zeebrugge, Granddad? Where did you live before you were married?

She picks another from her desk; a Christening photo. Baby ‘Daddy’ sits on Grandma’s knee; proud parents gaze out at their granddaughter. How were they to know? Did they hope? Did they plan? They took care of their son and his sister, she knows that. She recalls both; open-hearted people, happy, fun and kind.

Emotions overcome her, tears blur her vision, the collection in front of her is cleared away. Enough for today. One day she’ll find at least some of the answers. There are papers to search, old notes to read, mysteries to solve.... maybe.

Wedding & Christening


Part of a Time Continuum

Why is she so compelled to search those faces for answers? Why does she have a need to know. Is it pure interest or is it a thirst for knowledge of her roots? She looks into those eyes that she knew so well and begs to be given some information.

They are her DNA, her background, her fibre, part of the reason she is how she is, where she is, what she is. She is part of a time continuum.

She should have asked more questions but how do you know when you’re a child? Answers can be handed to the future, to interest, to encourage, to enlighten, to teach; she wanted answers, to enrapture her own girls and boys.

They weren’t watching her any more, tucked away in her drawer, tucked away in files of the past, files of the future; not directly at least, though she felt their watchfulness and protection as she weaved her own life from the thread they handed down.

Four Generations before Her


Family Trees

© 2015 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 23, 2018:

Well, thank you Kim for such lovely words. I love old photographs and, thanks to my father, I have plenty of them, many of them family as you can see.

Thank you for two visits today!


ocfireflies from North Carolina on December 23, 2018:


Wow! Another stellar hub done thoughtfully and creatively. I love how you mirror the progression and the poem is like sepia icing on the proverbial cake. Thank you for sharing.

Blessings Always,


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 31, 2017:

Thank you very much, Alun, for your kind and thoughtful comments. You're absolutely right about the regrets. Photos at least bring us closer to our forebears and make us think and feel grateful for so much.

I appreciate you stopping by to read and comment today.


Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on May 30, 2017:

Incredibly evocative Ann, and therefore very easy to identify with. The memories, and particularly the old photos which clarify some memories but raise far more questions than they answer, are very poignant.

The photos somehow become even more poignant when one sees the progression from sepia to black and white to colour, and of course the old, grainy, flickering off-colour home movies - they really convey the passage of time in a way which modern snaps and videos perhaps never will.

It's easy to have regrets isn't it? Just as one regrets the things one never said to a loved one before they died, so we can regret the questions which can never now be asked and may never now be answered. I really feel everyone should make an effort to try to leave a record of their lives for their children and grandchildren, so that questions like these can be answered many years into the future when their descendants finally want to know about their family history.

Touching reminiscences and sentimental photos. Alun

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on October 07, 2015:

Hi Ebonny. Great to see you today.

It's a great idea to record past stories too and, yes, I'm hoping that my two girls might carry on in the same vein, especially my younger daughter who is a good writer. I know my grandchildren are interested in family history so it pays to make the most of it and give them a feeling of heritage.

Thanks for reading and I greatly appreciate your valuable input.


Ebonny from UK on October 06, 2015:

Hello Ann

It's a wonderful thing to have and share these photographs and memories plus the diaries that you are making for your grandchildren will no doubt be very precious to them in decades to come.

I too wish I had asked more questions, and I also wish I had listened more to my relatives who are no longer with us. Often I now have a vague memory of being told about some event or other but cannot quite put the pieces together properly - probably because I just needed to take a bit more time to stop what I was doing and listen attentively - and now of course it's too late.

That's why I love your idea of keeping a diary. It's highly likely that our children and grandchildren will be too busy with living their own lives to fully take on board our stories from the past.

With a diary the memories are simply there waiting for our children when they are older and life slows down a little and they yearn to know more. And if they were to one day continue the diary for their own children and grandchildren - Wow!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 12, 2015:

Thank you, Phyllis, for your comments, votes and share. Looking forward to those stories of yours.

Yes, if we don't ask, the answers are gone for ever.


Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on July 12, 2015:

Hi Ann. Great stories and photos of your grandparents. I so enjoy reading articles like this. I have many old photos of my grandparents and other relatives - they are a treasure chest of warm memories.

I often asked Dad and Mom to tell me about when they were little and growing up - I write it all down so I can keep the memories in a journal. Sometimes I will write a story about them.

Thanks for sharing your memories and photos. You are so right about asking questions while the loved ones are still alive.

Up, U, A, B, I and H+

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 30, 2015:

Thank you, R.Q., for your kind words and compliments. My sense of family is deep, probably because I spent much time with them all and I was lucky to have loving relatives.

Yes, I did see most of the 'Who do you think you are?' programmes and found them fascinating. It becomes quite an emotional journey, as was mine when I did this!

Hope your week is good too.


Romeos Quill from Lincolnshire, England on June 30, 2015:

Very atmospheric and descriptive Ann from such a personal perspective; I enjoyed your poetic capture of a nostalgic, domestic coziness contained in ' Grandparent's Houses ' near the beginning of your article.

I missed out on asking my own grandad about his exploits during the war years and beyond but made up for it by grilling my dear old mum lol!

Genealogiy investigations still seem to be quite popular - did you catch ' Who Do You Think You Are? ' on the Beeb? Some fascintaing celebrity histories on there and quite a few surprises as well.

I thought your sepia and black and white prints were superb and thanks for sharing such special words and photos with us.

Have a smashing rest of the week Ann;


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 15, 2015:

Janika, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed this and I'm flattered that you're going to show it to your nephews and nieces. It is good to encourage the youngsters to ask questions and wonder about their ancestry; there are so many interesting stories to unearth, some of which might lead them on to other things. I appreciate your visit and your valuable input.


JanikaLeeReyes on June 15, 2015:

This was beautiful, Im going to show this to my niece and nephews. For my grandparents died when I was much too young, and never had these opportunities. But my mom and dad are still kicking, and you know how the youth are now a days. We should remember our legacies, find out the souls in which our parents stemmed from. Delve deep into our parents wise minds. this was amazing. thank you!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 08, 2015:

Thanks, Larry. It's still possible to find out but you don't get the extra details and the anecdotes which make it all so personal. I probably have more than most but I wish I had more and that's down to me not thinking ahead enough!

I appreciate your reading and commenting, Larry. Enjoy your Monday!


Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 08, 2015:

Beautiful hub. I've made the mistake of waiting to long to ask relatives about my heritage.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 06, 2015:

Thanks, ps; so glad you enjoyed this. I greatly appreciate the votes and sharing. Lovely to see you here today.


Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on June 05, 2015:

O so much of what you said I can relate to. "toasting fork" ...o Yes...we did that many times. And my Daddy baked us glorious biscuits on Saturdays on our wood stove...the electric still sat quietly in its place on this day. I too have cautioned others in a hub to get the stories before it is too late. One day the loved one will leave the planet and if we have not gotten the story down it will be lost for ever. And there are so many that we must know and share.

Awesome hub

Angels are on the way to you this gorgeous Florida morning ps

Voted up++++ shared tweeted

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 03, 2015:

Thank you, Peg. Family and photos are two great passions of mine, apart from writing of course! Photos inspire so much and people are so complex that they're fascinating even, or perhaps more so, when they're no longer with us.

I appreciate your comment, as always; thanks for reading.


Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on June 01, 2015:

These photos and memories are such a joy to see. I really love the sepia tones and the old fashioned posed photographs. Thanks for sharing your prose and these precious memories so we can enjoy them as well.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 25, 2015:

DzyMsLizzy: Thanks for reading and for your great input. Yes, it's so tantalising to have the photos and not know who's who! Great fun trying to fit together the jigsaw though. Thanks for the votes too.


Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on May 25, 2015:

I could almost have written this myself, and have, in my mind. So many questions unasked, so unanswered; so many mysteries.

I have some of the information on my parents; both told stories of their childhood escapades. I've put my father's tales into blank verse in first-person voice; my mother's stories are fewer--not enough for a book of poems.

My regret though, is that it never occurred to me, before he passed, to record my father telling his stories in his own voice, so my kids could have listened to his wonderful tales; tales he made so funny.

But I, too, have all those photo albums, full of people they knew, but who are they? THEY knew, and it did not occur to them to label many of the pictures, so the faces look out at me as unknowns. Some may be family; others family friends. I don't know who is who.

Perhaps because of these stories, or because I fell heiress ( LOL that sounds so grand), to the well-kept family history records of births, marriages, deaths, etc., genealogy became a fascinating hobby of mine, connecting family I never met to events in history I used to find boring. I was lucky to have a wealth of information going back many generations already done for me. The search for more details is time-consuming and sporadic as I tend to "real life" matters.

Voted up, interesting and awesome.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 16, 2015:

Thank you, Jamie. What a lovely compliment.


Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on May 15, 2015:

This is a beautiful hub Ann. I love the old photographs and the scenery of your words paints the perfect pictures. Jamie

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 13, 2015:

Thanks, Frank. Glad to entertain. I appreciate the votes and the share. Photos are so valuable and they give much information, apart from the answers to my questions! Shame more people don't pass down family events, interests, occupations etc. I'm certainly doing my best to pass on as much info as possible to my grandchildren.

Good to see you today!


Frank Atanacio from Shelton on May 13, 2015:

Annart, I really found this hub fascinating and the photos intriguing voted awesome and shared

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 13, 2015:

Thanks, Flourish. Glad you like it.

My sister and I are trying to piece together our grandfather's war efforts and it's digging up some interesting theories, as well as other stories along the way.

Good to see you today.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 13, 2015:

Lawrence: Wow! Great skeletons! Thanks for sharing that.

Oh yes, family are special and then some. Off to see my little ones tomorrow after 3 weeks away.


FlourishAnyway from USA on May 13, 2015:

I loved your memories, old photos and musings, Ann! It's so fun to look back and even more enjoyable to make discoveries. How I wished I had taken the time to ask certain questions of some of my relatives.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 13, 2015:


That was my Dads take on that. Yet he used to regale us kids with stories from our family past. I soon discovered we didn't just have a 'skeleton' in the closet we had a whole family of them. Forgers, Gamekeepers, eccentric Artists and probably a bandit or two. I'm really glad my great uncle didn't listen to my dad. I've got some of the research on a flash drive but haven't had time to look at it.

Enjoy your family

God gave them specially to you


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 13, 2015:

lawrence01: Thanks for your interesting input. I realise some people just don't want to know but I find it all fascinating, good and bad; it's what moulds lives and characters and it's all part of our make-up.

The Titanic link is great!

Thanks for visiting and commenting; much appreciated.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 13, 2015:

Jo: Thanks for the lovely comments, votes and share. Glad you enjoyed this. Yes, I'm very lucky to have those photos. Shame the people behind aren't still here but at least I have fond memories.

Have a great week ((((Jo))))


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 12, 2015:


Dad always said not to trace the family tree. 'What if you find that we were rich landowners but lost it all a couple of hundred years ago literally on the turn of a card?'

My great uncle did researxh it and we don't know where it all went but Dad turned out to be right!

Since then I've found out various snippets about family that are amazing. Two relatives on the Titanic (crew who survived!) to name just one thing

Interesting hub


Jo_Goldsmith11 on May 12, 2015:

How lovely and fascinating! Looking at the photos you have shared, feels like I am traveling back in time! wow! All of my grandparents are no longer around for me to ask "what was it like"?

As well, our family lost photos along the way. This is always so sad.

Because you can never seem to connect the pieces of your history without the photo to help the connection.

Interesting, useful, beautiful and Awesome~!

This is how I voted and shared too! :-))

love & hugs for you! ((((((((((((((( Ann )))))))))))))))

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 12, 2015:

Thanks, Jackie. It's sad, isn't it, when the memories are gone for ever and there's no way of getting them back. Sharing family information is so important. Thank you for reading and for your input; much appreciated.

Have a great Tuesday!


Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 11, 2015:

I could kick myself for not getting more info when I could. My mom knew just everything about everyone so I knew the info was there but I never dreamed that out of the blue her memory would be gone.

Great article! ^+

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

manatita: Yes, very sacred to me. Fortunately I now know some of the information that goes with them but there is so much more I will never know, to my regret. However, I'm grateful for what I have and for those people I've known and loved well.

Thanks for coming by and for leaving your signature remarks. Always a pleasure to see you here.


manatita44 from london on May 11, 2015:

Wonderful trip down memory lane. Yes, Pictures tell us so much! Of course when we have our dear ones to share them with, then they become alive and much more meaningful. Great shots and quite sacred, in a way.

In Love and Light.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

Thank you, torrilynn: the photos were my inspiration. I have so many questions that I wish I'd asked those people when they were alive. So many of them died when I was much to young to think about such questions but not all of them.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.


torrilynn on May 11, 2015:

really great photos, i like that they are in a black and white and they seem to go well with the story and the short poem. voted up. best of wishes.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

I'm so glad you like this, Dora. Sounds like you have a story or two to tell from your ancestry! Thanks for calling in today; lovely to see you and much appreciated.


Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 11, 2015:

Miraculous how someone else's memory can have such a calm, empowering effect on someone else. I thoroughly enjoyed this message of heritage. I am very grateful that I did not dig into my ancestry until I matured; mine's so interesting!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

tillsontitan: Thank you, Mary, for your valuable input. Yes, I hadn't really thought about the 'seen and not heard' aspect but you're absolutely right. My family was very outgoing but even they didn't talk about close family matters much.

I'm glad you liked this and thanks for the votes etc.

Most of all, I'm glad I've encouraged you (amongst others I hope) to tell their grandchildren more and encourage them to ask questions.

Great to see you today. Time I caught up with Lizbeth!


Mary Craig from New York on May 11, 2015:

Unfortunately many of us are from a generation where children were seen but not heard. Loving family members and memories but questions weren't thought about. As we get older we realize we should have asked more questions.

I am adopted but my adopted family is all I know. I know as much about them as you do about yours I suppose. This was interesting and leads me to want to tell my grandchildren more.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

Thank you, Mary, for your kind words. I found many of these in my father's effects, though some he had shown me already.

Glad you enjoyed this and thanks for the vote & share.


Mary Hyatt from Florida on May 11, 2015:

I think we Grandparents have a duty to honor our family traditions for out future generations. When I was younger, I didn't think it was important to remember our parents and grandparents, but now I feel different.

You are so fortunate to have these treasured photographs. I lost my grandparents at an early age, so I have very few photos of them.

Beautiful Hub and I enjoyed all your photos: Well done!

Voted this UP, and shared.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

Peggy: thank you for reading and for your input. I'm lucky having all these photos thanks to my father being a keen photographer and his family seemingly loving photos too; there are many more on that side of the family than the other.

My grandchildren love to look at my old photos and hear about the past. It's difficult for them to understand yet, though, as you say.

Thank you for visiting and for your valuable input.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

Hi Theresa! Yes they are treasures to me and I have many more, thank goodness. The trouble is, I didn't ask enough questions. My sister is in the process of finding out much more via various threads but I always feel 'if only I'd had the sense to ask at the time'. A lesson to all of us.

Like you, I have inquisitive grandchildren who hardly stop asking things. I have left many facts and figures about my life in the diaries I keep for each of my grandchildren; anecdotes about them from birth and bits about me as we go along. I hope that fills in some gaps! We have a responsibility to teach them about their roots, I think.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings! I hope you and yours are all well and busy making all the fun and memories like those we cherish when we look at our own photos.



Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

Thanks, DJ; I know what you mean about the phone calls.

I changed the title of this. It had a part about asking questions whilst we're able so I think I'll reinstate that as it seems to have lost some of its message.

Thanks for reading and leaving your input; much appreciated.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

I'm sure your aviary will look great, bill! Our weekend actually had a whole day of sunshine in it so I took some time for a few sketches of the camp site; therapeutic. Looks like today will give us some too.

Thanks for the comments; they mean a lot coming from you.

Enjoy your Monday; looking forward to reading your mailbox!

Ann :)

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 11, 2015:

whonu: Thank you. Yes it is great to have them. I want to encourage children and grandchildren to ask as many questions as they can before it's too late. Thanks for the visit.


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2015:

Fortunately when my mother was alive we spent many days putting photo albums together and with her help we labeled most of the pictures. Several of my extended family members are interested in genealogy and I have been able to offer photos and information to them. That being said, I have a few photos that are unidentified. Love your old family photos. Children rarely care about things like this until they get older. It is lucky at that point if there are people still alive who can furnish information to them about their family history.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 10, 2015:

I am fascinated at the old photos now and wonder a lot about their lives, as you do. Makes me think that my grandchildren may one day look at old photos of me with them and wonder. I hope I tell them all about me and what I love and what is important to me while I am still here. They sure do ask a lot of question of me now, so I am sure to fill their ears.

I can see a family resemblance in that one Aunt of yours in you. Life is truly short when we think about it. Growing up, it seems, we do not think this way, but now it seems it flies.

A lot to get us thinking dear Ann

Thank you for sharing your treasured family photos.

Peace and blessings to you and yours

DJ Anderson on May 10, 2015:

My mother died in 2001. Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of something I need to phone her and ask her about. I don't know if it

will ever end.

This is a beautiful hub with wonderful pictures and warm thoughts.

I suppose this is the best we can hope for. Thank you for sharing your

family with us.


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 10, 2015:

What great pictures, much like the ones I have in albums. I have no idea of the story behind many of mine. All relatives are gone and I have no source of information on some....but still, I love the photos and I get the "warm and fuzzies" when I look at them.

Wonderful look back, Ann, perfectly told. Thank you for sharing with us all.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend. I was busy building a new aviary for the backyard. It just might turn out to look nice when I'm done with it. :)


whonunuwho from United States on May 10, 2015:

Like so many of us...the old photos tell only a small bit and leave us without many answers. We do at least have them and cherish what we may. Nicely done my friend.whonu

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