It ‘s that time of year when families get together and we frantically try to find appropriate gifts. This is not always without accompanying stresses and strains but the holiday season can be a gift to family historians. Firstly, there are presents to give and receive. This is an opportunity to sneak all those ‘must have’ genealogy books on to your most wanted list, dropping heavy hints to your nearest and dearest, or indeed to just treat yourself. Although books may spring to mind when thinking of the ideal present for a genealogist, the possibilities are endless, if rather dependent on the gift-buying budget of those around you. We can dream of all-expenses paid research trips to an appropriate archive or ancestral home but this may be fantasy. More realistically, you may want a DNA testing kit, a software package or a new pencil-sharpener, make sure that those around you are aware of your gift of choice.
Better to give than to receive of course and whilst genealogically themed gifts might be your idea of heaven, they may leave other recipients bemused. Exchanging presents can be a way of subtly encouraging your family to take an interest in the past. A little late this year for you to produce that beautifully written and illustrated account of your family’s history to give to those who share your ancestry but there are other options. Even those who profess to have no interest whatsoever in their family’s history are usually interested in themselves. If they are book readers, how about a book about the era or the town in which they grew up? Entrance tickets to a place of historical interest may be another option, or an opportunity to try a craft from the past at a workshop. Depending on their age, young people may be tempted by electronic games, DVDs or even books with an historical slant. Younger children may be pleased with dressing up clothes or small-world toys relating to times gone by, such as knights and princesses. This may seem a world away from census returns and birth records but you are helping to arouse the curiosity of the genealogists of the future. My booklet Harnessing the Facebook Generation: ideas for involving young people in family history and heritage contains more ideas about gently persuading your descendants to engage with their heritage. In addition, there are suggestions of books, films and games about the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on my ‘work’ website.
The holiday season is often a time for family gatherings. This is an ideal opportunity to gather memories of the past and to pass on what you know to younger generations. Don’t expect a four hour discussion about Auntie Annie’s foibles but you can certainly refer to your obsession with the past and make others aware that you would be thrilled to see any family photographs or memorabilia that they may have. Perhaps you could strategically place photographs in your home in order to spark conversations.
This time of year may also provide you with free time to spend on research. Perhaps this is the opportunity to re-visit a branch of the family that you have not worked on for some time, or to think afresh about that brick-wall that has been niggling for years. Look out for special offers from data providers that often crop up at this time of year. There may be sales or periods of free access to certain records.
What ever you do, make sure that you make the most of the opportunities that the season offers.