Make Time for Family History During the Holidays
The onset of craziness has begun. It’s easy to get sucked into the madness around the holidays, the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping (oh, yes, that has begun as well!) but among all of the general busy work and for some, the sense of impending doom as they realize they cannot take on the enormous amount they planned to, is an opportunity. With all the family in town it is the perfect time to drag out your family history project, start a new project, a family genealogy, or an oral history. Here are a few simple ideas of how you can set aside time during the holidays to work on your family history project:
1. If you have already started on a project and have some family around, it’s a great idea to do some fact checking, find out what your relatives know, they might be interested in some of your findings. But don’t overdo it. It is important to understand boundaries, not everyone is a family historian and for good reason, although it may be hard for those of us who are a bit on the obsessed side to see at times, not everyone digs history.
2. Have relatives who are less interested around? Great. You can take advantage of this as a chance to find out what would interest them. As a researcher, it has been my experience that most people have a general appreciation for genealogy, if in no other way than a passing “aw, isn’t that it nice.” However, approach the topic delicately. The fact is, if you are doing your own research, or paying someone to do it for you, you are investing in something that you are hoping will be passed down and appreciated for generations. For this reason, finding out what non-genealogists are interested in reading about can be very valuable to ensuring that your history will be appreciated long after your time. Would they be more interested in a DVD with photos and interviews of relatives? Would they be interested in shorter more complete stories of each family in book format? Maybe they would be interested if it were compiled on a website where they could easily located specific tidbits of information. (Worried about monthly hosting fees and security? This information could be stored in a similar format on a DVD -R or CD-R). Perhaps they are tech savvy, and prefer an audio book format, or a deck of trivia cards to be pulled out on holidays. If you find it difficult to initiate a conversation, perhaps you could try one or more of these options and see which one is the biggest hit, and then continue to tailor more of your research for one of these formats.
3. So, what if you haven’t actually started a family history project yet? Maybe you have just been thinking about starting, but in all the franticness you always think ‘maybe later’. Well, listen up, because today is the day! There is honestly no better time to open the conversation up. Ask relatives about what they know, mom remembers spending Thanksgiving eating at Great-Aunt June’s house on the kitchen floor with her horrible trouble-maker of a cousin, Tommy? Write it down! That’s a great place to start. Holidays, for all their stress and trouble, have a way of bringing back the brightest and most deeply seeded memories. Perhaps you could start a notebook where each guest could write down a holiday memory. Not only will it get you fantastic ideas of where to start digging if you are compiling a genealogy, but it will also be a great keepsake all on its own. Someday, these fabulous stories will vanish. There is no time like the present to make sure that they don’t.
4. Perhaps you have been considering Oral History as something you’d like to explore in documenting your family history, or perhaps you have never heard of it. Either way, it is an invaluable resources when it comes to documenting the the past. I truly look at genealogy and oral history as flip sides of a coin. There are of course downsides to oral history, you can’t always rely on people’s memory of an event as factually accurate, however, when discernment is used and consideration is taken, the rich tale you can retrieve from the words of a relative can be priceless, and one of the most valuable resources available. The most difficult part of this for most people is opening the dialog. There are fun ways of doing this, and the most unique results can be had from a relaxed conversation. Try conversation starting cards, perhaps on the back of placecards, or on the bottom of cups or paper plates. Don’t forget to turn on a taperecorder (and let your guests know what you are doing so that you don’t catch anyone off guard)!
5. Another alternative is to hire a professional over the holidays. Although it is busy, it may be the best time to get interviews from a variety of people, while they are all in town. Just as you would turn to a genealogist to research your family’s lineage, you can turn to a Personal Historian to record stories of living relatives.
6. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have extended family with you during the holidays, take the time to include a note in your greeting cards, even if they aren’t interested in participating, most people enjoy being asked to help, especially if they can provide you with information about their lives or the lives of people who are important to them. Also remember that the telephone is a valuable tool, especially if you still use an answering machine that records on tapes, you can take the time to ask questions and record the conversation, and their stories, in their own words.
Whatever you do, enjoy the holidays, take time to make new memories and enjoy the old ones. Be sure not to go into conversations half-heartedly or with a hidden motive, but really take an interest in what your relatives have to offer. Whether you are compiling a cookbook, a genealogy, a story or a recording, take advantage of the holidays to make the most of your family history research.