The holiday season is a high water mark for family get-togethers and the perfect time for genealogists to fill in the blanks on their pedigree charts.
That’s why we suggest taking a few minutes during the hustle and bustle of all those family parties and observances to sit down and talk with some of your elderly relatives about your family history.
Fill in the Blanks
Any experienced genealogist can tell you that tracking down family history like birth and death dates is relatively easy using resources like Ancestory.com and FamilySearch.org.
What's not so simple is filling in the blanks in your deceased relatives lives. That's the kind of information you can pick up during a holiday chat.
Besides finding out who's related to whom and how, genealogists might also mine family members for other data points that aren't likely to show up in Census records such as:
- Physical Descriptions - With the exception of draft registration cards, you won't find many sources that tell you exactly what your ancestors looked like.
- Style Points - Did Great Grandpa have a sense of style? Or was he strictly overalls and work boots?
- Maiden Names - Researchers who approach family histories armed with maiden names in hand can save themselves plenty of headaches as they make their journey.
- Juicy Bits - Genealogical resources like the Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter Records are great sources for establishing lineage, but they don't have much in the way of gossipy details. That's where Aunt Rosie comes into the picture. She can tell you which family members were peaches and which ones were the pits.
In short, a 30-minute conversation with a member of your family can yield a lot more useful, and interesting, information than a few hours of library research ever will. (But that doesn't mean you won't need to do library research, too!)
If you're going to take the time to do a family history interview during the holiday season, you might as well do it by the book. That means printing out a few pedigree sheets to track your information on. These sheets are incredibly valuable genealogical tool and are readily available online.
Not only will properly filled out pedigree charts help you keep your family history well organized, they'll make life a whole lot easier when you get down to the more in-depth portion of your research.
Not Every Story is a Happy One
Over the past half century or so, conflicts in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe have brought thousands of refugees to the United States to start new lives after their old ones were cruelly ripped from them. While the stories of how these refugees came to our shores can be tough to tell, they're incredibly important when recording your family history.
If you're comfortable asking your relatives about these experiences, you might be surprised to find they're more than willing to tell the story. Oftentimes, grandparents feel more at ease telling these stories to their grandchildren, as opposed to their children.
You might also find that older family members are ready to talk about their experiences in a Diaspora as they get closer to the end of their lives.
The key here is to exercise discretion. If grandma is uncomfortable talking about how she brought her children out of Vietnam or Somalia or post-war Europe, just let it go.
You Might Not Get Another Chance
Your elderly relatives are not going to be around forever and when they're gone, their stories are gone, too; unless someone - like yourself - managed to capture them. So take a few moments this holiday season to capture your family history while everyone is all in the same room.