I was extremely fortunate to become interested in genealogy when I was just a teenager. This meant that not only was my grandmother still alive, but so were a lot of great-aunts and uncles.
They all had one hand on the baton of memories, stretching back a century before I was born. They could pass to me stories told to them as children by their own grandparents.
Yet I nearly let it slip from my grasp. Most of my information came from two people whom I'd been warned would know nothing.
I sat down with my Nan and opened my notebook. She was the eldest of her siblings, so she recalled all of their births in great detail. She spilled out her memories onto the page and suddenly I had a rich picture of her entire generation. She was able to give me names and locations for some of those who had gone before. But then it stopped. We had reached the end of her knowledge.
"It's ok." I assured her, pleased with my hoard of information, "Auntie Gwen will be up later and I'll ask her too."
Auntie Gwen was my Nan's youngest sister, so technically my great-auntie. My Nan was dismissive. "Gwen won't know anything. Half of these were dead before she was born!" Young and inexperienced, I accepted the truth of this. My great-auntie came and went without me once mentioning what I was doing.
It took about three weeks of enthusiastically hunting through my family history before my mother happened to mention it to my Auntie Gwen. "Oh! Let's have a look," she said, taking my folder off me. Then she filled in half a dozen names, where I had question marks and took me yet another generation back.
My great-auntie might have been the youngest, but she and her husband had been the first in the family to buy a car. In their youth, they used to spend weekends visiting all of those relatives living in the Welsh valleys. Over cups of tea and bara brith, she and her cousins had talked long and hard about their mutual ancestors.
The next time I saw her, Auntie Gwen took out of her handbag a list of addresses and telephone numbers. They were ready for me in Wales. She'd already called them. There had been relatives traipsing all over the graveyards of Blaenafon, taking photographs and noting down dates on the stones. The information kept on coming.
This is just one example of why you should ask questions of everyone in your family. Their age means nothing, if they were the one to have the conversations with those long gone. Plus it's worth noting that, in my own family, it's definitely not the eldest who has the most details. It's me, as I've been the one researching it all for twenty years!