The holiday get-together is the perfect place for beginning your family history project. Everything works better if you do a little planning. Here’s how to start preserving your family’s history.
Start with what you know: birth dates, marriages, deaths, etc. Write it all down.
Transfer your notes to a chart, and organize it as a family tree. You can use the free family tree at Ancestry.com and make use of their repository of 10 billion statistical records from all over the world. Select census indexes; state-specific downloadable charts and forms are available at no charge.
Before the family gathering, draw up a list of open-ended questions with specific family members in mind. These can be as simple as: “Tell us about your wedding day,” or “Where did you serve in the war?” If you have them, gather family photos, letters, memorabilia, and heirlooms. These will help jumpstart memories. (One caveat. Some memories may be difficult for loved ones to share. Don’t push. Be respectful.)
Select a relaxed moment as dinner is winding down, and start by announcing that you would like to ask members of the family to share some of their fondest memories. Pass around photographs and other collected items to get the conversation started.
Tip: Prompt young children to be the interviewers. Their innocent questions and true wonder about the mysteries of that hard-to-imagine time before they were born can open up reticent elders to share stories they might never share with another adult. Encourage one of the younger family members to record stories using a video camera or smartphone. (Create an instant audio scrapbook using the free iPhone app Saving Memories Forever available at savingmemoriesforever.com.)
Expand your search
The mission to document your family’s past can go well beyond family members you have always known. Use Facebook and other social networking sites to search for distant family members. On Facebook, you can create family-only groups or plan a reunion.
See “Tracing Family Roots” for more videos and stories related to genealogy.