10 Family Christmas Genealogy Tips
Here are 10 tips that will help you with your genealogy and also make your family Christmas party a whole lot of fun.
Last weekend was our family’s annual Danish Christmas breakfast. There were nearly 100 Anderson family members that looked and acted a little bit alike thanks to common ancestors.
Anderson little ones moved from lap to lap planting sticky-syrup kisses on wrinkled cheeks. Older Anderson children played tag at one end of the room, pausing to sample sugary treats. Silver-haired Anderson grandmothers leaned on canes as they fact-checked the tales their cousins were telling.
Focusing on genealogy and your family’s history at your family Christmas party will help your loved ones understand where they came from and who they are. It will help youth feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and give them a sense of belonging.
10 Genealogy Tips for Your Family Christmas Party
- Send out heritage-themed invitations.
- Wear color-coded name tags.
- Serve traditional food from your heritage.
- Print ancestor coloring pages for the children.
- Create family tree charts for placemats.
- Interview older family members.
- Ask guests to fill out family group sheets.
- Display family photo albums.
- Tour your ancestor’s homes.
- Document your family’s cemetery.
Genealogy Tip #1 for Family Christmas Parties: Send out heritage-themed invitations.
Party invitations can be the beginning of your family Christmas party’s genealogy theme.
Most families know which country their ancestors came from. If you don’t, a DNA test from MyHeritage (one of BillionGraves’ partners) can open a world of new ideas about your heritage.
A simple image from the country of your origins with the words “Merry Christmas” beneath it can make a cute invitation. Or try writing “Merry Christmas” in your family’s native tongue. An online language translation site, like Google Translate, can help you to figure out how to say “Merry Christmas” in your ancestor’s language.
Our family Christmas party invitations wished family members “Merry Christmas” in Danish as “Glaedelig Jul.”
Genealogy Tip #2 for Family Christmas Parties: Wear color-coded name tags.
If your family gatherings are large it can be a challenge to remember the names of those you may see only once a year. So name tags can be a lifesaver.
Our Danish ancestors had a large family. There were 10 children, with 9 surviving to adulthood. For our family Christmas party, we made a chart with a different colored dot next to each of the names of the 9 children. Our ancestor was Carole and the colored dot next to her name was pink. So all of the descendants of Carole wrote their own names with a pink marker on their name tags.
As we mingled with descendants of the other Anderson siblings, the color-coded name tags helped us to see how the family groups connected to one another.
The name tags also brought out family stories. Descendants of Great-Aunt Helen could see who the descendants of Great-Aunt Carole were by the colors on the name tags. Helen’s family told us about the time the girl’s mother forced Helen, as the older sister, to play with her younger sister Carole, instead of the neighbor girl. Helen devised a plan to get rid of Carole. Her “diddy doll” could really wet its pants when given a bottle of water. That day Helen filled the doll’s bottle with some watered-down mustard when Carole wasn’t looking. Then she told Carole it was her turn to change diddy doll’s diaper. Carole was so disgusted that she wouldn’t play dolls anymore – which was exactly what Helen wanted.
Genealogy Tip #3 for Family Christmas Parties: Serve traditional food from your heritage.
Do you have recipes that have been passed down through the generations? Are they still being used or are they in a dusty recipe box? Dig them out and serve them up at your family Christmas party!
Each year at our annual Christmas breakfast we eat Danish ebleskivers, Kringle, and sausage.
The children in our family often call ebleskivers “pancake balls.” Ebleskivers are made in a cast iron pan that has little cups in it. The cups are filled with batter. As the batter begins to brown over the heated stove it is gently turned with a fork or knitting needle. After 3 or 4 turns the batter forms into a ball.
Kringle is an apple pastry made with lots of butter. The dough is alternately rolled out, folded, and chilled over several hours resulting in dozens of delicate thin layers. Some Danish families shape their Kringle in a circle, but the Anderson family Kringle is shaped like a horseshoe.
Serving traditional recipes from your family’s heritage will help to build connections between generations. Nieces will learn from aunts. Cousins will compare slight variations – nutmeg or no nutmeg? And the food will keep bringing you back together again.
Genealogy Tip #4 for Family Christmas Parties: Print ancestor coloring pages for the children.
Coloring genealogy-themed pages will not only teach children about their ancestors, but it will also help them identify with their elders.
As one of the little Anderson boys traced a blue crayon over a lumberjack’s ax, he dreamed of toppling big trees himself.
Three cousins in red Christmas dresses pressed their red crayons across coloring pages of Denmark’s flag. They would not forget that their great-grandparents came across the ocean to America.
To make the coloring pages, simply do an online search for the item you are looking for followed by the words “coloring page.” For example, “lumberjack coloring page.” Cut and paste the image onto a printable document, add a brief story or explanation, and print.
Here are few ideas for coloring pages you can print:
- Occupations of your ancestors
- Style of homes or architecture
- Ships from immigrants
Genealogy Tip #5 for Family Christmas Parties: Create family tree charts for placemats.
One of the hits of our family Christmas party was the family tree fan chart under each plate. They didn’t stay under the plates for very long though! Aunts and uncles carried the charts to their parents and grandparents to find out how to pronounce names and to hear stories.
The fan charts were created using FamilySearch’s free download. We chose an Anderson ancestor to position at the bottom of the chart so it would show only our family’s Danish lines.
If you already have a family tree on FamilySearch it will be very easy for you to print fan chart family trees for your family Christmas party. If you don’t have a FamilySearch tree yet, you can set up a free account here and get started.
Our local print shop offers poster-size copies. So we also had fan charts printed as posters to hang on the wall.
On the backside of our Anderson family tree fan chart, we printed photos of the grandparents and great-grandparents. It was fun to hear comments like, “Hey, I look like her!”
The chart and photos were laminated so they could be taken home or saved from year to year. Then they were placed on top of red and green paper placemats.
Genealogy Tip #6 for Family Christmas Parties: Interview older family members.
It’s easy to get busy talking to our own siblings or first-cousins at a family gathering and forget about the older folks. Sometimes we may take it for granted that the older generation will be there next year.
But it is the older generation who hold the heartbeat of your family’s story. They know what it is that makes your family unique.
We knew that the ebleskiver tradition went back as far as our ancestor, John Anderson, who came over from Denmark as a 9-year-old boy. At our family party, we found out it went back one more generation as someone took the time to listen to two cousins, aged in their nineties, who remembered John’s mother making ebleskivers when they were children.
Here is a list of Questions for Genealogy Interviews to get people talking about the past. You won’t want to take too much time away from the party for an interview – that is best left for another day. But ask just a few questions to get them telling stories and then sit back and watch. It will become a magical moment as family members, young and old, pull their chairs around to listen.
Genealogy Tip #7 for Family Christmas Parties: Ask guests to fill out family group sheets.
A family group sheet is a chart used to record the names of immediate family members. It has places to record parent’s names, their children, dates, and locations.
At our recent family party, a visiting foreign exchange student from New Zealand offered to help. We asked her to pass out family group sheets to anyone who looked old enough to have children or grandchildren.
Most people filled out the family group sheets on the spot and turned them in. Others chose to mail or email them later. This is a quick and easy way to extend the branches on your family tree.
Here is a free printable family group sheet from the National Archives.
Genealogy Tip #8 for Family Christmas Parties: Display family photo albums.
Ask family members to bring albums with photos from your previous family Christmas parties. And especially ask older members of the family to bring albums with vintage photos of your ancestors.
Set up a table especially for the photo albums and watch as family members gather to laugh and share memories. It is especially touching to see children asking great-grandparents about their childhoods as the photos spark their interest.
If the people in the photos are not labeled, this a great opportunity to ask family members to identify them.
Genealogy Tip #9 for Family Christmas Parties: Tour your ancestor’s homes.
If your family Christmas party is in the same area where your ancestors lived, see if you can arrange a visit to their former home. Whether you can go inside the house for a tour or just drive by, it will give you an idea of their life’s experience.
My friend, Pam, loved to visit her grandparents in Cleveland, Ohio as a child. She thought it was especially fun because her grandparents lived in a mansion they had inherited from their great-uncle. This great-uncle was Maurice B. Clark, the first business partner of the oil baron, J.D. Rockefeller.
By the time Pam visited the home it was old and a bit run-down, but to her, it still seemed magical. There were 18 rooms for playing hide-and-seek with cousins at family Christmas parties. Each room had a button to ring for servants. And since each button made a unique sound, the children could memorize the tones and race to the room that made that sound to find the other children before they got to the safe spot.
Pam’s grandparent’s house also had a “secret passageway” that led from the kitchen to the carriage house. As a little girl, Pam begged her grandmother to take her through it. But her grandmother was worried that the ceiling in the passageway may not be stable and might collapse on them. So for years, she would not allow it. But finally one day her grandmother relented and the two of them walked through with flashlights.
Best of all, beyond the library, there was a “secret room.” One of the bookcases in the library had a spot to press that would cause some of the bookcase shelves to swing open like a door. This revealed a tiny room with a safe and shelves filled with silver and crystal. “My favorite thing in the room,” Pam said, “was a gold-footed bathtub. It was Cleveland’s first indoor bathtub. And it was installed in the secret room out of modesty, to keep the neighbors from knowing about the luxury.”
While you may not have such a grand ancestral home to visit, a trip to your ancestor’s home could still be fascinating. If possible, go with an older member of your family that knew the people that lived in the house so they can tell you more about it.
Genealogy Tip #10 for Family Christmas Parties: Document your family’s cemetery.
Lastly, but perhaps most important, make a visit to the cemetery where your ancestors are buried if it is near the location of your family Christmas party. The older generation may be able to tell you where your ancestors are buried. They may even walk with you to their gravesites.
Before you go, download the free BillionGraves app to your smartphone. Then as you walk along, you will be able to take photos of gravestones and they will automatically be tagged with a GPS location. Both the photo and the GPS location will then be available online for any of your other family members to view for free.
I recently went to a family cemetery with my mother. We documented the gravestones of our family members with the BillionGraves app and also those surrounding them. The people buried nearby were those our grandparents and great-grandparents had known and loved.
At nearly every grave my mother had a story to tell, things I had never heard before. “Ha! These people owned the doghouse where my sister tried to teach me to smoke!” she said. “My older sister had snitched two cigarettes from a visitor at our home. She told me to hide in the doghouse with her to try them. When it was my turn, she told me to inhale. I did, but then immediately threw up on her leg! We never tried that again.”
“Oh, I’ll never forget the night I got to dance with this young man,” she continued. “He had a steady girlfriend, but she wasn’t on our senior trip, so he asked me to dance. My, he was handsome.”
“We went to the home of this old man on my wedding day,” she related. “He was always so nice to me, but he couldn’t come to my wedding because he was bedridden with cancer. I knew he would want to see me in my wedding dress, so right after the reception, we stopped at his home.”
Taking a trip to the cemetery to document your ancestor’s graves may allow you an opportunity to hear family stories you have never heard before.
Gravestone Photo-taking Tips:
- Stand to the side to avoid casting a shadow.
- Remove weeds, grass, or other debris that may block gravestone information.
- Be sure names and dates are inside the photo frame.
- Use the chain icon in the corner of the screen to link multiple photos together. It can be used for gravestones with information on more than one side.
- When you are done taking pictures for the day, go to the main screen of the BillionGraves app and tap on “photos”. Then tap on “upload”. You can do this after you return home using a Wi-Fi connection or at the cemetery using your data plan.
We hope these 10 genealogy tips will bring joy to your family Christmas party.
From all of us here at BillionGraves, “Merry Christmas, Glaedelig Jul, Feliz Navidad, and Joyeux Noel!”