UPDATED 12/9/2016 - Though originally written for Thanksgiving these tips can be used year round. Enjoy!
Are you hosting a Thanksgiving or holiday gathering this year? If so, it is a great time to explore, share, and celebrate your family history. Whether you are a serious genealogy buff or new to exploring your family story, here are 5 simple and fun activities you can try.
Last year I bought our family a “Family Journal.” The intent was to use it as a space for anyone in the family to write down thoughts or feelings about what has been going on recently. It could be as profound as a presidential election or as mundane what the temperature was that morning. With so much digital information out there (e.g., Facebook, email) it is nice, and important, to have actual handwritten information that connects us to our pasts.
Invest in a high quality journal like the one pictured here from Rustic Ridge Leather, preferably leather bound with archival grade paper if you can. You will want it to last and you are more apt to write in it if it is prominently displayed. Invite your guests to jot down a few of their thoughts or feelings. It will be something to treasure decades from now.
Family Music Playlist
This one requires a little leg work, but it can be a real treat. Gather all the birthdates of your guests (years included). Create a music playlist (e.g., on Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube) of songs that correspond to the top songs (or types of music) for each birthdate. Have the music on in the background and ask people to guess which song connects to each person.
For a comprehensive list of top American songs since 1900 check out http://playback.fm
Just for fun, throw in some music from ancestors further back in your history. For example, my Great Grandfather, Vasilios Halvangis, was born on the island of Samos, Greece in 1891. A quick google search showed a Library of Congress site with a description of type of Greek music around at the time my Great Grandfather’s birth:
"The immigrants from Turkey brought to Greece, and then to America, a form of Greek music, smyrneika, characterized by a strong vocal presence set to intricate melodies using Middle Eastern modes and rhythms which contrast to the more European forms of Greek folk music called dimotika. Examples of smyrneika are presented in a concert at the Library of Congress on August 24, 2011 by Sophia Bilides with Mal Barsamian and Mike Gregian."
Heirloom Show and Tell
Invite each guest to bring the oldest artifact they can find in their house. Have everyone tell its origin story. Where did it come from? Who did it belong to before them? What meaning does it have for them in the home? If the heirloom is too big (e.g., and old dresser) or too delicate (e.g. a brittle book) have them bring a picture of it to talk about. And, don’t be afraid to include the in-laws! It is a great opportunity to learn more about them. Our family stories shouldn’t be limited to our genetic bloodlines.
Make a Family Heritage Time Capsule
Ask each guest to bring an item to put in a family heritage time capsule. This doesn’t have to be the type that you bury in your back yard for 50 years. Think of your intended audience. Would it be fun to open the capsule a year from now? Five? For an added element of fun tell your guests to keep the item secret. You or someone you designate should be in charge of placing the items in the capsule without the others seeing. Make your items meaningful, unique, and fun (put probably non-perishable). For some basic time capsule making tips check here. If you are insistent on a longer term, highly durable, and expensive one you can look at Future Packaging and Preservation.
Family Ancestry Trivia
If you are the family historian you likely have a family tree full of interesting information on a site like ancestry.com. Use that to ask a series of family tree related questions and keep a friendly score.
For example, in my family a question might be: Who was Great Aunt Grzeskowiak married to and what was his occupation? The answer, of course, would be Casimir Wierzbicki and he owned a candy store in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1900s. I didn’t know that until I discovered it on ancestry.com and it is unlikely that your guests know it either.
These are all great ways to learn, teach, and share your family story with loved ones.
Whatever you decide, I encourage you to find your own ways to explore and celebrate your family history. Knowing about where you’ve come from helps you live a fuller, richer, and more rewarding life.