If you’re having a Grandparents Day celebration, consider making the time together a jumping off point for a family genealogy project. Ask the guests of honor and other senior relatives to share some stories about the family’s history. Take notes or make a video or audio recording of the conversations, then go online to find out more about some of the people and places that come up.
Simply Googling an ancestor’s name, hometown and a few other stats could turn up some useful information, says Jessica Taylor, president of Legacy Tree Genealogists. You might even discover that a distant cousin you never knew has already started working on a family tree and that you can connect and add to the data collection. Taylor points to Geni.com as an example of a free genealogy website that works this way.
“It’s a combined family tree, so if cousins have contributed there, you might get additional information that you didn’t know,” she says.
Subscription websites like Family Search, My Heritage and Ancestry let you upload photos, oral histories and written information about family members, Taylor notes. She also likes online programs that provide journal-writing prompts. An example is StoryWorth, a website and app that subscribers can access via email or Facebook. They receive a list of questions to use as story prompts to send to family members. Participants can respond to the questions by email or voice message, and their stories can be shared with the rest of the family.
To help you dig further, a number of genealogy sites provide free access to the 1940 U.S. Census, the most recent such record available. The information in the document includes not just the names of household members but also fascinating details like their occupations, their monthly rent and whether or not they owned a radio, Taylor says.
DNA testing can provide more insight into your family background, including the components of your ethnic heritage—although Taylor notes those results are not exact. Still, she says a DNA test is “the most true record of a person’s identity that we’ll ever get.”
“One thing that I really regret is that I was living out of the country at the time that my grandma died, so I didn’t have a chance to get a DNA test from her,” Taylor says. “If you can, talk to your grandparent about the possibility of getting that information from them, just for posterity’s sake.”
The test is painless—a swab of the inner cheek—and with a service such as Family Tree DNA you can even store the samples.
As you gather more and more names and information to fill out your family tree, you’ll want to put it all together in a neat, shareable format. An online search of “family tree template” will turn up hundreds of models you can download and print for free.
With so many great tools available to help you trace your roots, why not let your Grandparents Day activities be the spark for creating a lasting gift of heritage for the whole family?
Read more: Grandparents Day – History & Facts