Play Family Genealogy This Thanksgiving!
For American families, Thanksgiving Day is one of the best opportunities for relatives to gather together and share stories about their shared history, whether it’s during the thanksgiving meal or over a slice of pumpkin pie.
Children especially love hearing family stories over and over again, watching home videos and slides, and poking through photo albums and treasured memorabilia. There’s nothing quite like having family lore shared directly from the source. Probing the past is a little like solving a mystery. You never know what clues you might dig up.
Family trees vary widely, and not every child lives with their biological parents. Some questions may have to be answered through public records, or via DNA testing, or by other extended family members. Whatever your family looks like, though, there’s sure to be a genealogical research activity perfect for your Thanksgiving gathering.
Play a Twist on the Name Game
One long-standing holiday icebreaker at our house is something my in-laws call “The Name Game.” Grab a basket (or swipe somebody’s hat!), scratch paper, and several pens.
A moderator chooses a topic, and everyone else writes down a word or phrase related to that topic on a strip of paper. The papers are secretly tossed in the basket and read aloud. Duplicate answers - and ‘answerers’ - are eliminated before each remaining player is given an opportunity to guess who wrote which answer. If the guesser is correct, the author is eliminated, and that player keeps guessing until they make a mistake. Play continues in order until only the winner is left standing.
For a genealogical Thanksgiving game spin, choose family members, family stories, family facts, or other fun answer topics. For example, if the moderator chooses “Grandma,” every answer must have something to do with Grandma. Sample play categories might be “siblings,” “ancestors,” “cousins,” “funny stories,” “family recipes,” “ancestral homeland,” “famous relatives,” and similar subjects.
Run a Free Genealogy Search
Where can you look up your family tree together free of charge? A lot of places, it turns out! Thanks to the power of the Internet, an abundance of sites and services exist to reconnect people with their relatives, histories, and heritages.
1. Talk at the Thanksgiving Dinner Table
Thanksgiving dinner is an excellent time to ask senior relatives to share memories of their younger years. Be prepared with interview questions and conversation jump starters in case the discussion lags. Don’t forget to give the kids openings to ask questions spontaneously.
Many families open their holiday meals with spiritual or personal traditions, perhaps a prayer, a song, or a blessing. This is a great opening for genealogy research. Why are the family traditions done the way they are? Whose idea was it? What country or faith practice did it come from?
2. Draw Your Family Tree
A classic! It’s an activity that may prove sensitive within some families, but as long as everybody is on board and having a good time, there’s no beating a good old-fashioned family tree for illustrating how everyone is connected to everyone else.
Fun fact: A family tree is technically called a genogram. And although dozens of printable clip art family trees exist for traditional family units, there are also resources for making one when circumstances such as divorces, remarriages, and adoptions are on the table.
If you don’t mind getting slightly messy and the dinner taking a very long time to cook, pull out the paper and paints for this delightfully colorful DIY handprint family tree art.
3. Put a Puzzle Together
We’re a bit sentimental about selecting this holiday for genealogy research, because we also chose Thanksgiving for our last baby announcement! It was the perfect moment to get our loved ones together in one place, so I ordered custom pregnancy announcement puzzles from Etsy and challenged both sets of in-laws to solve it first.
Already have a family tree or a basic history put together? Order some inexpensive custom puzzles and let the family heritage games begin.
For a cheaper option that includes the whole family, print out some genealogy printables like this interactive crossword.
4. Video Your Family Members
Make digital memories quickly by interviewing your loved ones on camera. Creating video interviews at your Thanksgiving feast is a great way to preserve funny family stories, important names and dates, and other snippets of family trivia. Not sure what to ask? Here are 100 family history questions to help you get started.
5. Have a Thanksgiving Game Night
Play dinner table games with your loved ones to brush up on your family history. An easy pick is Toss ‘N’ Talk: Hand a participant a small ball and have them toss it to other family members. Whoever catches the ball has to answer a family legacy question. You can play this game with any lightweight foam ball and come up with your own questions, or purchase a dedicated version covered with preprinted ideas. Several genealogy board games are on the market if you enjoy research enough to play them regularly.
6. Make Family Genealogy Gifts for the Holidays
Genealogy themes make great gift ideas, but if you’d rather create your holiday gifts instead of shopping for them, break out the supplies and join the kids in crafting any of these projects:
For a handy way to keep all your family history information organized, use our free Family Genealogy Printable.
Want to Seek Out More Family History Resources?
What if you don’t know your own history and there’s no one to ask? Or is your family’s past painful? Genealogy research doesn’t require speaking to anyone who makes you uncomfortable. Today there are DNA tests, online search sites, news archives, and a wealth of other resources that let families pursue answers and tell their own stories to their children on their own terms.
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