(By Candice Buchanan)
The holiday season offers some of the best opportunities to tap those family resources. Be it minds or matter you need to explore, you should be prepared to take advantage of so many relatives in one place at one time. It is always tricky to set a time to get together with today’s busy schedules, but with two major family-oriented holidays only a month apart it is like having a built-in family history follow-up. At the Thanksgiving gathering begin your question-and-answer periods and let the kin know what family data or materials you are seeking. If an aunt comments that she has the family Bible or photos that you don’t have – well, that’s the beauty of the Christmas holiday coming just a few weeks later – simply tell her to bring them on December 25.
Before or after the big meal, break out those unmarked family photos and ask for help putting names to faces. Don’t just get the key figures like Grandpa or Dad, but get the names of every person. Ask when, where and why the photo was taken and write that down too. Keep track of who shared each photo to include in notes with any reprints you may produce – this will make everyone feel included and appreciated for participating.
Fill-in the missing leaves in your family tree for descendants as well as ancestors. Get full names (not just initials or nicknames), birthday/baptism/graduation/wedding/etc. dates and places, and any other details that sit-downs with your cousins can provide.
Ask to hear those favorite family stories, this time with a digital, audio or video recorder in hand, or at least a pen and paper. These interviews should go beyond the basic facts to include the interesting or fun details of life that will really add personality to your family history and preserve details that will otherwise be lost. In my family we grew up hearing a humorous tale about Grandma’s elderly aunt who only washed her hair once a year, and a more serious account of a younger aunt who comforted her family from her death bed saying it is “so beautiful to be with Jesus.” Stories such as these can turn a series of names and dates into a personable, intriguing report that will interest even the non-genealogists among your relatives. These details won’t be found in public records, the resources for these priceless pieces of history are the minds of your relatives. Don’t take those story-telling relatives for granted, recording their personal accounts should be a priority.
If you are creative, the photo or heirloom show-and-tell sessions and the interviews conducted on your Thanksgiving holiday may prompt unique gift ideas for the Christmas holiday. Photos can be restored or enlarged to look excellent framed. Combine the photos with family birthdays and anniversaries to create a handy family calendar (for some great ideas, check out this site and click “Products” to see previews). Interviews could be put on a family website or DVD for all to enjoy. Type up those family stories for a book along with special photos and documents too (like the calendars, I use this site to make really cool books that can look any way you want them to, they have great family history templates that you can 100% customize, and you can get personalized help for free if you need it). Begin a Memory Medallion full of all those collected memories to remember lost loved ones whom everyone thinks of so often at this time of year. All of these projects are do-able from your own computer or at minimal costs through professional services; yet, these gifts will be one-of-a-kind and valuable to generations of your family.