The Christmas holiday weekend is a time when many families get together for a few days or correspond with each other in the form of Christmas cards and/or letters. Christmas is the time of year when people think of holidays past, traditions no longer practiced, and family members long since deceased. This seems especially true as we age, especially after age 40 when we begin losing friends and elderly family members.
Nostalgia combined with the holiday season often presents opportunities for motivating elderly family members to talk about the past. Many genealogists use this time period to encourage parents and grandparents to write down information pertaining to family holiday traditions. Later, they will discreetly expand this nostalgia to include filling out family group sheets and pedigree charts about the family. This opportunity may provide a perfect way to fill in some of the blanks in your family history database.
Take time to ask family members some of those questions you have been putting off. Bring or mail photocopies of pictures to the family get-together for relatives to identify. Photocopies of originals work well for this purpose, as relatives can make notes on the copies. Try to interest a parent or grandparent in completing one of the “Grandparent Memory” books. Suggest that you would be willing to sit down with them and record the information, take any pictures, make any photocopies, or assist with any activities or expenses necessary to facilitate the project.
Holidays are the occasions for bringing out special decorations and family keepsakes. Treasured ornaments, special family china and holiday serving pieces, handmade linens, and other items provide opportunities to share family history information. A handmade ornament may be a family heirloom, and telling the story of its origin reinforces and perpetuates its history from one generation to another.
Photograph albums have proven track records for getting conversations started. Consider placing a single photograph or family album in a prominent place for people to peruse. You will be surprised at the memories and conversations photographs can evoke. Meals are excellent times for telling stories. You pretty much have a captive audience. If you are staying with relatives, the quiet time at the end of the day, just before bedtime, can be great for reminiscing. This is often a time of reflection when family members may talk about all the nice things that happened that day and recall past holidays and family members who are gone. These times strengthen our family relationships and reinforce the memories we share.
Learning about holiday practices and traditions also plays a role in the study and enjoyment of family history. This opportunity often motivates even those family members with no real interest in genealogy or historical appreciation. This helps people from multiple generations connect with those family members who are long gone. Research has shown that many genealogy mailing lists have their highest volume of traffic, especially relating to holiday traditions, this time of year.