Combine nostalgia, holiday traditions, grandma’s pumpkin pie and immediate access to a bunch of relatives, and what do you get?
An atmosphere ripe for talking about family history!
Thanksgiving is a good time to tell and listen to stories, get IDs for mystery faces in photos, and share your genealogy discoveries. It doesn’t have to be weird or forced—don’t announce “Time to talk about genealogy!” just as everyone’s settling in to watch football.
Here are a few easy, unobtrusive ways to start family history discussions:
- Identify the “connector” at the gathering—the relative who knows everyone and starts conversations. Get this person curious about your research by sharing a genealogy discovery or a photo related to his or her ancestor.
- Show off a photo of an ancestor who looks remarkably like a relative who’ll be there.
- Over dinner, ask about family recipes, for example, “Where did Grandma learn to make pie like this?”
- Bring up a Thanksgiving from your childhood: “Remember the time Aunt June used salt instead of sugar in the sweet potatoes?”
- Mention changes to an old family home you drove past recently—maybe it’s on the market, or someone built an addition.
- You probably have at least one relative who’s interested in your research. Arrange to show that person some genealogy records at the Thanksgiving gathering, and you may arouse others’ curiosity (but be prepared for people to ask for copies).
- If your child or grandchild is working on a family history project for school or scouts, let him bring his blank ancestor chart and ask relatives for help filling it in.
What is the best way to start a family history interview?
The best tactic for oral history interviews is to ask open-ended questions (rather than ones with yes or no answers), and to focus on people’s memories and experiences. It’s much more interesting for you and the interviewee to talk about the stories and emotions behind the events in your family’s past. Use these questions as a springboard for planning your interview:
- What is your earliest memory?
- Who’s the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?
- How did your parents meet?
- Tell me about your childhood home.
- How did your family celebrate holidays when you were a child?
- How did you meet your spouse?
- Tell me about your wedding day.
- Tell me about the day your first child was born.
- Tell me about some of your friends.
10. Describe your first job.
11. What did you do with your first paycheck?
12. What is your fondest memory?
Remember, family memories last for generations, so don’t miss out on this holiday opportunity to preserve your family’s history. Be sure to write down everything you hear and document your sources for use in your continued genealogical research.
Happy Thanksgiving from the EBRPL Genealogy Department!