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Wabanaki Genealogy Tip
My Relatives Won't Talk About IT!

Last updated 11-AUG-1997

Don't give up on your living elders! Their knowledge and wisdom is precious. Have patients but be persistent.

Show her (or him) that it is important to you, but more important - show her that SHE IS IMPORTANT TO YOU!!!. Earn her trust by showing that you care about her. Visit her, help with chores, learn what is missing in her life and find ways to make her more comfortable. Does she like animals? Spend a day with her at a farm or petting zoo. Does she like gardening? Help her plant some flowers or take her to visit a garden. Is she a great cook? Pick her fresh berries or apples for a pie and help her make it. By spending time with her, you will have opportunities to talk. Avoid direct questions about subjects she is not willing to share, but listen for clues and opportunities to gently turn the conversation toward those subjects.

Keep in mind that your living relatives may not actually know the answers to your questions about their Native ancestry. The Abenaki are known today as "The Invisible People" because they learned to hide their identity. This has gone on for generations. Many people have only vague general knowledge that Abenaki ancestors hide in the family tree. Don't discard them just because they are not able to answer your questions. They still have much information of value, little clues, and pieces of the puzzle you can make use of. Often, they are not aware that they hold important knowledge. Details that seem insignificant to one person can be a gold mine for others. Even the tinniest tidbit can lead you toward solving your puzzle.

Another thing to keep in mind relates to alcohol and abuse. If you are getting clues that your elder comes from a family that was torn apart by either - BE CAREFUL! A person untrained in dealing with this type of family disorder can do far more harm than good by stirring up old memories. Put the welfare of your relatives before your own desires to know the truth. Back off or seek professional help.

As we get older, we forget about details and events of our past, but there are ways to revive some of these stored away memories. Help your elder to think about the past in positive, friendly ways. Ask her what types of family activities she enjoyed most as a child. Was there a special Christmas or 4th of July that she remembers? What was her favorite holiday? Where did these activities take place? Who participated? Did she have a favorite aunt or uncle? What were they like? What was the neighborhood that she grew up in like? What games did she play as a child? Discussions that evolve from these questions can often lead to remembering long forgotten details and people. These seemingly unimportant conversations can provide you with very important clues.

Talking with living relatives is a good start, but if they are just not willing to give up their secrets, than search them out for yourself. Your grandfathers death certificate should list the names of his parents and where they were born. Learn as much as you can through traditional research methods. Now you are armed. Now, instead of asking what your grandparents names are, you ask "what was Great-grandfather John Smith like?", "I know he was a shoemaker, but where did he work?", etc.. This shows your living relatives that you are interested enough to do your homework and care about who your ancestors were, not just what nationality they were.

Don't deluge your elders with questions. Earn their trust, be willing to listen to whatever they want to talk about, be patient, and wait for appropriate opportunities. If your heart is in the right place, the Creator will know and you will be shown the answers you seek.

Written by: Canyon Wolf for Ne-Do-Ba