When it comes to family history, your relatives are probably your biggest source of information apart from official records. Long-forgotten photographs, documents and certificates could be hiding away in attics and cupboards – and with a little planning could become part of the family tree.
At the next family gathering, why not make it your mission to gather this information together, enjoy a trip down memory lane and consolidate what each person knows about your ancestors and their lives.
Follow our six-step plan and enjoy a gathering to remember.
1. What do you hope to gain?
You’re likely to come away satisfied from the get-together if you focus on a couple of objectives. For example, are you hoping for help in identifying unknown people on family photos? Or have you come across a family history mystery that older or more distant relatives might help to solve? Maybe you just want to find out what documents and papers belong to the family as a whole. Knowing your aims will help with step two…
2. Prepare your participants!
Contact your fellow party-goers to explain that you’re hoping to carry out a bit of fun family history research whilst you’re all together and would welcome their input. You could invite people to bring along old photos and do some scanning to share copies around. Or perhaps some relatives have old documents or certificates they might let you borrow. And if there are any relatives you feel will be particularly helpful in terms of information on particular ancestors, make a mental note to have a chat with them at the party.
3. Bring along a family history kit
Believe it or not, bringing along selected excerpts from your research can be a great ice-breaker and encourage your relations to help you in your quest to find ancestors. Just a few items such as a copy of the relevant part of the family tree, a few interesting photos and perhaps one or two birth, marriage or death certificates will set the ball rolling and get people reminiscing about grandparents, great-grandparents and maybe even stories relating to ancestors beyond that. And of course don’t forget you’ll need something for recording or writing down all this new information!
4. Set up shop
On the big day, find a corner where you can ‘set up shop’ and leave your family history research on display for people to look through. Have paper and pencils available for ancestor-identifying from old photos or recording any new information. If you can access a mobile scanner, teenage relatives might be willing to get busy scanning photos and documents, and you could also record mini memory sessions on your phone.
5. Make it all about the memories
Although dates are obviously key to us as family historians, in general these will always be available to us via family history records, even many years from now, whereas memories and knowledge are more precious and time sensitive. If anyone’s willing to share their reminiscences about the family in years gone by, this is a great opportunity to record that information and enrich your family tree. The same goes for old photos – aim to identify as many of those ancestors as possible whilst there are still people around who remember those pictured.
6. Can you gain any research buddies?
By the end of the gathering, hopefully everyone will have enjoyed a trip down memory lane and you’ll have gained some valuable new information. If anyone’s shown a particular interest in your research, why not enlist them as a research buddy? You could set up a WhatsApp group or e-mail circle to share your findings on a six-monthly basis or even organise a follow-up session.
(image: New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 25, 2019.