Family stories, traditions good topics for the holidays

Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr. at P.O. Box 901, Decatur, GA 30031 or gagensociety.org.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are a good time to repeat stories, traditions, recipes and other things that families need to share, since that is when relatives gather. In fact, today it’s perhaps the only time families are together in person.

Many of the celebrities interviewed on the genealogy television programs this summer and fall seemed totally unaware of their ancestors. One person recently told me their father felt that, because we were a nation of immigrants, we shouldn’t worry about where we came from, but just enjoy where we are. This from a man whose roots had been in the U.S. since the 17th century.

Don't let that happen to your family. If you pass on interesting stories, that can catch people's attention. If you really want to interview someone, there are places online to find lists of questions to help prompt you — for example, at storycorps.org (go to Record Your Story and then Great Questions) — along with other suggestions.

At that same site, see Recording Locations to lead you to the branch of Story Corps in Atlanta at the Atlanta History Center. You can schedule an appointment there to set up an interview and recording session. But you can also record your relatives yourself with a camcorder.

Subjects to not forget: family recipes, where the family has lived (and are the houses still standing), military service, and where family members are buried. A visit to a family cemetery or family plot might be long overdue and can help families work toward continuing to care for their ancestors’ graves, especially in cemeteries without perpetual care.

Christmas gifts

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for your favorite genealogist, you might consider membership in a genealogical society; classes in genealogy training, such as those offered in January by the Cobb County Genealogical Society (cobbgagensoc.org ); a subscription to a genealogy publication such as Family Tree Magazine; or a good genealogy reference book. You also could consider a subscription to one of the major genealogy websites, like ancestry.com, or a DNA test.

Don’t forget the neighbors

Research your ancestors’ neighbors and associates, since they could turn out to be relatives or, more importantly, could lead you back to where they all came from, especially if they have unusual surnames. Also, always explore witnesses to any documents.