This is famously the best and most sensible place to start. Unless you have a mother like mine, who decided to change the maiden name of her grandmother and therefore send me on a wild goose chase for the better part of eighteen months. It’s fine Mum, all is now forgiven.
Living relatives are by far the ones who know the most. Unless you have a mother like mine who told me her father had an electrical shop on Grafton Street, when it turned out to be Nassau Street in Dublin. It’s fine Mum – you were the youngest of eight. I’ll let it go now.
Aside from the odd factually incorrect detail, wringing my mother for information lifted me from level one research (me, my parents, my grandparents) to level two: great grandparents. I knew my grandparents lived in Dublin and moved to England a few years after my mother was born where they settled in Coventry. Much of level one, as I call it, is sort of confirming what you already know has happened. Agreeing with the green Ancestry leaves that yes, my grandparents did pass away in the Warwickshire area. Discovering great grandparents depends on how much a living relative can tell you about their parents’ memories of their own parents, which again, being the youngest of eight children, my mum’s parents had probably given most of the information countless times to older siblings.
Regardless, Mum had memories of the mad Delaneys on my grandmother’s side. She blames any familial temper on this bloodline. So, there I had it – the surnames Kinsella and Delaney, which are completely unpopular Irish names and therefore could lead to no confusion whatsoever. Typing these into Ancestry of course produced nothing as those two generations had been born in Ireland. Which led me to my next and greatest find at that point – the surviving Irish Census.
About six months ago, I sent my mother to Coventry (literally) to visit her brothers, armed with two pages of questions and as many printed records and handwritten trees that I had produced by then:
Mum made a telephone call with hot off the press information relating to the wrong surname and where the electrical shop actually was. And despite my grandparents having passed away some years before, one of my Uncles kindly offered to ask them about the family tree to which my Mum sounded extremely confused until her brother reminded her they were going to the cemetery the next day.
Living relatives will also tell you things that no record keeper would be interested in noting: that my grandmother married in pink in 1935, that my Mum left a toy fire engine at their first home in Coventry to see if her mother was right when she said that if she left it behind she would never see it again – they left for their new home the same day. The recollections of a haunted house in Ringsend, and later, supernatural goings-on in Lowther Street, which involved rosary beads heating up to burning point – a childhood favourite, that my great-grandfather John Delaney was apparently a very kind man and that he had died from falling from a roof in his work as a thatcher, the opinion that my great-Uncle Kinsellas looked down on their brother – my grandfather – Michael Kinsella, that Bridget Delaney – my great-grandmother, was a – well – difficult woman.
So as much as the information of living relatives will not necessarily extend the branches, it certainly colours in the details. Especially with a mother like mine.