The Holidays Can Help Your Family Research

Tracing Your Roots: Family gatherings are genealogical gold mines. Here’s how to make the most of them.

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Family holiday gatherings provide a wonderful opportunity to learn more about one’s roots. These get-togethers can prove to be a valuable resource for furthering your genealogical research, if you’re prepared to make the most of them. Below are a few ideas to help you get ready.

Picture This

As the older generations of a family pass on, family genealogists often find that they don’t have any means of identifying certain relatives in old photographs. Be sure to bring these “mystery” photos to your next family event. One of your relatives may be able to help you finally identify these individuals.

Ask other relatives to bring old family photos or home movies. By looking at these with family and friends, you can learn a lot about your family history as people reminisce about the individuals or events captured on film. It may also provide you with an opportunity to view a photograph of a particular ancestor for the first time.

You Just Have to Ask

Another way to obtain family-history information is by interviewing kin. There are a number of compact, inexpensive digital voice recorders available. If a family member feels uncomfortable about being recorded, be sure to have a notebook available for taking notes.

In addition to talking to the oldest members of your family, keep in mind that the younger generations can also provide a wealth of information. You may have a cousin who had the opportunity to spend more time with one of your grandparents than you did, and he or she may be able to tell you things about your grandparent of which you were unaware.

Think of questions to pose that require more than just a simple yes-or-no answer. Ask older family members about holiday traditions they participated in as children with their families, as well as pastimes they enjoyed as children and young adults. Include questions about how they met their spouse or spouses, where they were married and where they lived during their marriage. Also think about historical events that took place locally as well as nationally during their lifetimes, and ask what they remember about these events.

Before your family gathering, fill out a family group sheet and ancestry chart, both of which are available for free at websites such as American Ancestors. Bring these documents with you and show them to family members as you interview them. They may be able to help you fill in the names and birth, marriage and death dates for certain family members.