As Christmas draws near some of us will be planning to visit relations or have a family get-together. Often these occasions are one of the few when all of the family meet up (apart from weddings, christenings and funerals), but how often do you discuss family history or traditions?

In the genealogy magazine, Your Family Tree (December 2015 issue), Colin Waters reflects on a missed opportunity to meet an elderly relative he had never heard of. As it was coming up to Christmas he put of the visit. Sadly sometime later she died and he had missed learning about the family history she knew.  The old saying of “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today” comes to mind.

It is worth remembering that it is not always the eldest relative who will know the most about the family.  My youngest uncle was the last child to leave the family home, therefore his mother had more time to talk to him about members of the family and their lives.  He knew things his siblings did not.

So whilst you are planning a wonderful Christmas family party, try to plan for a time to talk about your shared family history. It does not have to be a heavy session, perhaps a general chat. You could make up a party game and have a series of questions relating to family members, traditions, holidays, sporting achievements, education, jobs etc.  Just remember to record everything, so that you do not forget what has been said and who said it.  Perhaps a sound or video recorder discreetly placed – but let everyone know they are being recorded otherwise you could upset some people and cause a family argument later.

Just remember that not everyone knows the real history.  An elderly relative recently attended the funeral of a childhood friend.  The eulogy was given by the friend’s son, and during his speech my relative realised that what he said about his mother’s early life was completely wrong. We don’t know where he got the details from, perhaps he mixed up his mother’s story with another relative, he may have just remembered it incorrectly, or was he given the wrong story?

It is also worth talking to family friends (if you know them) as they may have insights into your family that either no-one else knows or will not talk about.  A neighbour of one of my ancestors said to her husband, and in the hearing of their daughter – “I don’t know why she stays with him, they are not married you know.”  Their daughter was the friend of my ancestor and it was my ancestor’s mother the conversation was about.  It was only because I had spoken to this friend, then in her late 80’s that I learnt the truth of why I could not find a marriage for the couple. She had never told her friend what she had overheard.

Family history is not just about the documents and dates you can find, the real story is in the everyday lives of our ancestors and it is our responsibility to record those memories whilst we can.


Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.


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