A Family Tree

During the holidays this year, reflect on your family’s history, events of the past and in your family’s genealogy. Your assignment this year is to use the holiday gatherings to collect family stories and pictures for your genealogy project.

HolidaysCredit: Pixabay Public Domain Images

No matter how many years go by there's no escaping the memories of past reunions and religious holidays such as Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, Pongal, and Vesak. Hopefully, most of your holiday memories have been positive experiences. As the years pass, we find fewer of our elder family members still with us, as we ourselves become the elders. New faces  and new generations join in as children are born and relatives get married – and the family tree continues to grow and branch-out in many directions.

Memories and Photographs

Our childhood years were filled with the joy of seeing festively trimmed pine and spruce trees with gifts wrapped-up underneath just begging to be opened by bright eyed children, and the smells and sight of holiday treats and food begging to be eaten. We enjoy these holiday reunions with our relations and friends not seen since the previous year. The eldest relatives, especially the grandparents, and if your fortunate, great-grandparents love to remind us of the events from their younger years. The elder members often have great stories of our families past to share during the holidays. Myself, at that time, I never really fully appreciated the value of all they had to share regarding our heritage and lineage and, unfortunately, lost the opportunity to put on paper all the stories and history of our family.

FamilyPicsCredit: Cory Stophlet

How far back does your current living family history go? In my youth our many family holiday gatherings included family members with birth dates as far back as the late 1880’s. The family elders loved the holidays. I can still remember how my great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles, as well as other elder relatives had much to share about the events of their lives and holidays seasons of the past. They shared many photos and trinkets of the old days. Hopefully, you too have had the opportunity to learn and enjoy the stories of your family's history and the many characters in your family tree.

Collect and Organize

This is a good time to give yourself and your family a gift by starting to collect and capture all the family memories, stories and items that tell their story and lineage. Use these as resources to start creating your own family lineage project, capture and writing down your own family history as a future Christmas gift.

Start your new year's resolution this Fall Season by initiating and documenting your family history and genealogy.

  1. Begin by writing down, recording and video recording family members as they pass on the stories of the genealogy and history. 
  2. Collecting up all the stories, make arrangements to scan or gather copies of birth records, marriage records, photos and items while the older members are still alive. Once those elder members are gone it is hard to fill in the gaps of your family's story. Sometimes those gaps can seriously stifle a lineage search. 
  3. Make a timeline of births, deaths, and events plus corresponding events in history. See who was born on the same day as someone famous and identify what significant events in history were occurring during your family member's lifetime. It provides a great perspective on your family members and what was happening in the country during their lifetime.


A good place to start the conversation can be by considering all the many things that have happened on this December holiday in your family's history, as well as our nation's history. It's worth taking a moment to reflect on those moments. Another good avenue to travel and context to your family tree is through identifying ancestor's occupations.

  1. Explore who served in the military - did any of your family members serve in or for the military in some capacity? 
  2. Did anyone in your lineage participant in the American Revolution, American Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Iraq, or Afghanistan? 
  3. Discover whether anyone in your lineage was a farmer, coal miner, and gold miner, or worked on the railways in the 19th century through the 1940's. Maybe you have a sheriff, politician, actor, entertainer, or founding father in your tree.
Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteranCredit: Created: 1982; Commons upload by Magnus Manske

Through your oldest living relatives you should at least be able to gather a lot of history from the past 100 years and maybe more. Who knows, you may be able to find links to famous characters of our nation's beginnings and notable moments in history.

Ahnentafel Herzog Ludwig Family TreeCredit: Ahnentafel von Herzog Ludwig (1568-1593)

Researching and recording. Keep a notebook and a container to collect up and hold the physical items such as photos and documents collected. A computer with word processor software, a printer-scanner, and internet access are "must have items" in order to really collect, record, print and manage all the lineage information. There are many free tools that you can use to start your search and capture your information is Ancestry-com, probably the most well-known.

Other valuable internet tools include:

  • MyHeritage-com
  • GeneaNet-org
  • CensusLink-com
  • FamilySearch-org
  • Fold3-com
  • Gencircles-com
  • KindredKonnection-com
  • Rootsweb-com

The above list consists of the most commonly used resources; however, there are many more sites online. Most of these have free accounts but they also limit the amount of data you can glean from their free search until you pay for a premium membership. The free accounts can provide a lot of valuable information and they occasionally have premium use periods for free during special times of the year (from a weekend to two full weeks often on the holidays). Check out your local library as well. You will find that many libraries have a genealogy section and can help you not only research information on how to assemble your lineage tree, but also how to search for allusive family documents such as birth certificates, census records, and immigration records. Be patient and persistent in your research. But above all, enjoy yourself and share what you find with your loved ones as you go along this journey.

Final Word

Then for this holiday season, maybe you can give your family a gift of the product of your work representing your family tree. There are plenty of software applications inherent with Windows and Apple computers that include Microsoft PowerPoint that can be used to set-up a photo gallery with lineage tree charts. Write your family history down like a story with chapters for the various tree lines and periods of history, adding a few chapters that focus on some of the more notable characters of your lineage. Compile the family's story with pictures for a little presentation or a book of the family's story for those relatives you think will most appreciate the value of such effort. Sometimes just having a slideshow of old family photos playing on during a family gathering next holiday is worth the effort in of itself.

Remember to have fun and share the results with your family. It just might be time to write your families history.

Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques
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