This thanksgiving, are your ancestors invited to the celebration?
Sure, you will be with your living family during the holiday, but you don’t have to limit your guest list to the living—Try inviting your ancestors to the gathering!
Here’s how your ancestors can be a part of the celebration:
- Skip that “everyone list what you’re thankful for” go-’round-the-table game and introduce the “unseen guests” at your dinner table instead. Hand each family member a card that introduces that unseen “ancestor guests” (ie-“We’d like to welcome Mary Johanssen, from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Mary was born in 1859 and married at fifteen to Paul Onstadt. They had twenty children, but seven of them died as babies. Mary is your great-great grandmother. As we eat our dinner, let us be mindful of all that Mary suffered during the great famine of . . . ) then go around the table, having each family member read their card aloud.
- Family Bingo: Distribute blank bingo cards. Players must fill in the blanks with the names of all the ancestors/relatives that come to mind. The bingo-caller then draws family names from a jar; five names in a row wins a small gift.
- Story Circle Game: Frame a topic, where the participants will relate a life story or memory of dearly departed relatives. One question might be, “What things were rationed in World War II and how did you deal with it?” You might ask the question, “What is your favorite memory of growing up in Grandma’s hometown?” Before commencing the actual storytelling, you should let the people in story circle know that you want to gather their stories for posterity. Be prepared to capture the stories manually in the event that anyone objects to audio- or videotaping. Remember that the information you collect should be documented with the name of the person who tells the story, the date and location of the story circle, and any dates and places the person relates. You never can tell what research leads you will pick up in the process.
- Table Teams: While waiting for dinner to be ready, cover each dining table with a disposable white plastic tablecloth (this plastic comes in a roll especially for such occasions). Put a few markers on each table top, then invite family members to draw their family’s family tree on the plastic cloth with the magic marker. Full names, birth dates (and death dates in some instances), marriage dates, spouses’ names, and children can be brainstormed while everyone is waiting for the dinner to start (beats watching television!
- “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” trivia about family members and ancestors. The fastest finger ones also deal with the family. For example, “Put the following family members in the order of their birth.” “Which person was not a nurse?” Be sure to include persons who have married into the family, too.
- Create a centerpiece with family mementos. Using photos, heirlooms, or handed-down ornaments, you can create a visually stimulating centerpiece that may spark up the conversation you have been waiting for.
- Heirloom Show & Tell: Have everyone bring in a family object (clothing, a book, a work tool, a knickknack) with a history. Display the items and, later, make time for a storytelling session.
At one of my own family gatherings several years ago, I printed out a bunch of paper copies of ancestral photographs (with captions and life span dates at the bottom) then gave each grandchild in the family a blank family tree like this coloring page (below), to which they were assigned to paste the photos in their proper order:
When the children had finished, another relative had them all laminated as “family history place-mats” for the kids to use during the big family dinner. We still have those place-mats at our house, and though they are looking a little sad, I love how my kids still talk family history during dinner, because these ancestors are always our special “guests” at dinner, thanks to the place-mats!
You can also take turns at the computer, making digital family tree keepsakes like these (click on the image to view instructions):