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Who’s Ancestor was on First?

By Daniel Hubbard | July 7, 2013

From a recent exchange started by an intentionally amusing comment from a client- “In genealogy we’re supposed to go backward to move things forward, so is backward actually forward or is backward still backward even though it takes things forward?” Somehow that reminded me of “Who’s on first?” at least in the level of potential confusion and it is baseball season after all. So, as a reminder that communicating family history is not always straight-forward and with apologies to Abbott and Costello—

Costello: “Do you know your family history?”

Abbott: “Yes.”

Costello: “Ok, great! Who’s your father’s father?”

Abbott: “That’s right!”

Costello: “What’s right?”

Abbott: “Who’s my grandfather.”

Costello: “That’s what I’m asking you.”

Abbott: “That’s why I’m telling you who is my grandfather.”


Costello: “Ok, when your dad was a little kid and his mother was sick…”

Abbott: “That’s true! His mother was born sick!”

Costello: “What are you talking about?”

Abbott: “His mother.”

Costello: “Who’s mother was sick?”

Abbott: “No, who’s wife was sick. Who’s mother was dying.”

Costello: “Who’s dying?”

Abbott: “No she was his mother.”


Costello: “Let’s try this again. When your dad was little and his mother was sick…”

Abbott: “Yes, that’s right.”

Costello: “Stop interrupting me. So, his mother was sick. Who was left to take care of him?”

Abbott: “Now I think you’ve understood it!”

Costello: “Understood what?”

Abbott: “No, he was my mother’s father.”

Costello: “Who was your mom’s father?”

Abbott: “No, who was my dad’s father.”


Costello: Let’s try this again. You check a census that lists your dad when he was a kid. Who was listed as the father?”

Abbott: “Yes, in every census.”

Costello: “And you say his wife was sick?”

Abbott: “Yes, but you can’t tell that from the census. You have to look at their marriage license.”

Costello: “Who’s license?”

Abbott: “Well, I’d say it was their license not just his, but she was sick on it.”

Costello: “Oh no, she must have been a very nervous bride.”

Abbott: “Why do you say that.”

Costello: “Well, she was sick on it.”

Abbott: “Yes, she was but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”


Costello: “One more try. You check your dad’s birth certificate. Somebody was the father.”

Abbott: “Now you’ve switched to my mother’s side of the family again.”

Costello: “What?”

Abbott: “I’ve told you, he was my mom’s father. Somebody was his wife.”

Costello: “Well, I should hope somebody was his wife.”

Abbott: Now you’re making sense.


Costello: “Look, let’s try to get something straight. Did your father have brothers and sisters?”

Abbott: “Yes and no.”

Costello: “Did he or not?”

Abbott: “Yes and no!”

Costello: “If I asked your father’s father about his children, he would talk about your dad. Would he talk about another son?

Abbott: “Yes.”

Costello: “Good, would he talk about a daughter?”

Abbott: “No.”

Costello: “Wonderful! And these were whose children?”

Abbott: “Now you’ve figured it out!”


Costello: “So I go back in time to when your dad was a kid. It’s the Fourth of July. The whole family has gathered. I knock on the door. Who answers?”

Abbott: “Yep.”

Costello: “I walk into the kitchen to check on the meal. In the kitchen would be?”

Abbott: “Somebody, sick and dying.”

Costello: “That’s terrible!”

Abbott: “No they were great cooks.”

Costello: “Ok… I walk onto the screen porch. I see what? Who is at the watermelon? A child is on the floor playing. Yes or No? The meal is brought out of the kitchen by somebody, sick and dying.”

Abbott: “Now I think you see it!”

Costello: “I don’t see. I’m totally lost!”

Abbott: “What?”

Costello: “I said, I don’t see I’m totally lost!”

Abbott: “Oh, wouldn’t have been there. He could never get anywhere on time.”

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