During the holiday season, families have the opportunity to catch up with all of the relatives that you tend to lose touch with during the year. That makes it a prime opportunity for an exchange of information—that you can take beyond the highlights of the last 12 months.
While everybody is together, do some investigative work and explore your family history—both medical and genealogical. It’s a great opportunity for seniors to share experiences, and potential health concerns, with younger family members. And, as an added bonus, putting together a family memoir or medical history is an activity that can help seniors enhance cognitive function.
After all, what better time is there to help your family plan for the future than when everyone is together for the holidays?
What Do You Know?
Any good investigation starts with determining what you do and don’t know. And that means starting with the basics— your family tree. There are plenty of templates— like the one offered by Microsoft Office as part of the Excel spreadsheet program— available on the Internet that can help you chart your genealogical path.
If you would prefer to work manually, download a printable chart. Print out a few different kinds so that you can keep the final version neat— framed, a family history can be a nice gift when complete.
Line Up Your Resources
You probably won’t be able to fill in all the branches of your tree from memory alone, but that’s where online resources can help. Cyndi’s List offers a comprehensive list of sites that allow you to track down names and dates. It will take more than one to find all the information you need.
Make a list or bookmark the sites that are helpful during your search so that you can come back to them.
Create Interview Questions
All of this prep helps you work up to asking your family to help pinpoint the details of your shared history—siblings, cousins, even your children and grandchildren can help you fill in the gaps. It would be helpful to create a list of people you need to talk to and appropriate interview questions, so you don’t waste time or miss someone critical to your research.
Developing a list of interview questions is one of those activities that can help seniors writing their history get everyone on the same page.
Start with the basics:
- What is your full name?
- Did you go by a nickname?
- What is your birth date and where were you born?
- Were you baptized and if so, where?
Don't be afraid to expand on your questions, too. For example, don't just ask each person the name of parents or grandparents. Ask them what they remember about them, too— like what they did for a living.
If you are interviewing family, and not relying on online resources, it might be helpful to personalize the questions to get a feel for who they are and how they live.
- What is your earliest childhood memory?
- What kind of house did you grow up in?
- How big was your school?
- Did your family go to church regularly?
If you’re not sure how your family would respond to organized interviews, you might try setting up information exchanges as part of gift-giving. You could, for example, ask every person to attach a favorite recipe to their gifts. How about asking the person opening a gift to tell something about their childhood? Just make sure that you let everyone know in advance what you plan to do.
Make Good Use of Your Time
Come to a family gathering prepared to take notes and listen to people talk. You might even consider taking a writing class to learn how to better organize your thoughts, too.
After the holiday, sit down and sift through your notes to figure out how to use the information and fill in holes in the family tree. Constructing a family history does more than just provide activities for the seniors in your family– it can help educate the generations to come.