30-Day Family History Writing Challenge: Day 1

By Grace Dobush

Inspired by November’s National Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo online), the editors of Family Tree are kicking off the 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge.

Each day in November, we’ll share a writing prompt on the front page of that will help you use your research in a new, creative way. We will also post the prompt on this page. Spend as much or as little time on each prompt as you can—after all, it’s your family’s story! You can also follow along on Facebook and Twitter, where you can share your writing with us and other genealogists.

For Day 1, the prompt is: Write a letter to an ancestor you’ve never met. Include questions you’ve always wanted to ask him or her, plus some that reflect what you’ve already learned about your ancestor (for example, “Do you enjoy your new job?” or “How are you coping with your father’s death?”).

Madge Maril, genealogy intern at Family Tree Magazine, wrote this letter to her Great-Grandfather:

Dear Harry Aaron Maril,

Your story is the one that began my lifelong interest in my genealogy. You were the Maril that was born in Europe but left in order to pursue a better life in America—or so the story goes. You and your wife Katherine bore one of my favorite people I have ever had the pleasure to know: my grandfather. Grandpa Bill was warm, loving, intelligent, kind, and most of all, absolutely hilarious with a sense of humor so dry it made you need a glass of water after talking to him.

Grandpa was always very shy about his upbringing, so I have so many questions about you. I know that growing up during the Great Depression was extremely hard on our family and that it was Great-Grandma Kate that urged her son to become a doctor in order to make a name for himself and generate some income. I’m still not sure exactly where you are even from, Harry! Where were you born?! In the 1915 Census, it’s marked that you were born in Germany. In the 1920 Census, it’s marked you were born in Russia. In the 1940 Census, it’s marked that you were born in Lithuania. Then, on your registration card, you wrote that you were born in “Alaes Lorine”, France.

The genealogists of the family think you may have been fibbing in order to cover up that you were German during the war. I think you spelled Alsace-Lorraine wrong on purpose, in a way to show you aren’t really from there at all… maybe as a clue to the future generations you knew would look into it. Which answers the question I’ve always had about where Grandpa Bill got his dry sense of humor.

Until you write back, I guess I’ll keep researching. I’m determined to figure out where your hometown is!

Your Great-Granddaughter,

Madge Maril