Help Restore African American Graves Destroyed by Whites in Utah

This African American family’s ancestral headstones were repeatedly destroyed by whites in 19th-century Utah. Magnanimous souls who care about social justice, genealogy, history, and graves are invited to donate and help defray the cost of ground penetrating radar to locate the graves and then mark them again.

Just click on the image below:



Update on my Social-Media-Free Life

It has been four months since I permanently deleted all of my social media accounts (you can read about that journey here; don’t miss all the article links!). This post is an update for my blog-readers about how my life and genealogy work have been going without social media. I have to admit, it has been strange adjusting to life without social media! A few unexpected twists:

  • The struggle I faced in my original post: I am still constantly (subconsciously) picking up my phone. Whenever I sit down to relax, my brain still calls out “phone!” I am trying to rewire it to instead think, “book!” or “magazine!” or “meditate!” but this change is taking some *major* rewiring of the brain to accomplish.
  • My business is still doing just fine; no social media needed. Clients continue to find me most often via my APG page and LinkedIn.
  • It truly amazes me just how programmed my arms, hands, and fingers had become to automatically reach for a device every time that I sat down at the end of the day or whenever I had a bit of free time. Keeping myself physically at a distance from my cell phone is the only thing that helps.
  • I now let a Fitbit on my wrist tell me who is calling or what a text says and keep the cell in another room or in my purse at all times, to keep myself from grabbing the phone–because even though I don’t have social media, there is still a web browser on my phone with web sites where I can look at news, blogs, stores,, etc and I’ve found that they become surrogate “scroll and stare” replacements for my former addiction to social media.
  • Instead, I now revert to a book, genealogy journal, or family genealogy project during my downtime moments, as a result of this new strategy–and boy do these activities make me a much more productive genealogist than staring at my phone ever did; yay!
  • For times when I am away from home and there is no book nearby (I’m on a train to New York, at a hotel, in a doctor’s office waiting room, in line at a store, etc), I’ve made sure to load my phone with good books on my Kindle app so that I have quality options to keep me from wasting time on my web browser.
  • Still, every now and then I admit to “phantom limb” sensations that cause me to grab that cell at the end of the day when I plug it in to charge by my bed, and scroll through blogs, news sites, or Amazon on my cell browser. How sad is that? But my firstborn went away to college and I want her to be able to reach me in case of an emergency, so I don’t dare banish the phone to the desk at night. I’ve got the Fitbit, but am not sure it will awaken me if phone is in another room. Husband has his phone, but what if our daughter calls mom, first? Dilemma! Still, I am planning to move a piece of furniture and permanently plug a charger in behind it, so that phone gets charged far from the bedside each night.
  • Sometimes I have to get onto my husband’s Facebook to message somebody because I still don’t have their email address or cell number, and I have found myself scrolling on *his* Facebook (because we have friends in common) but getting nothing of value from the experience but YouTube videos and time-wasting memes or political posts, after which it kind of freaks me out how addicting that place still is! Another goal: no more peeking–I’ll ask my husband to do all messaging of friends for me. Ugh.
  • I’d love to just switch to a cheap flip phone and avoid walking around with a web browser in my pocket altogether, but I recently moved to a very rural location in a new state, so I’m constantly getting lost. I need the GPS and web-search capability that a smartphone provides so I can locate stores, dentist offices, auto mechanics, etc. and Google facilities when I am out and about.
  • Another very helpful solution to living the social media-free life: calling up old friends, texting them, and visiting people! Granted, these solutions take TIME, whereas social media can be done anytime, anywhere, in small bursts of time with very little commitment, but I’m finding that I can text my friends in those small pockets of time when I used to be scrolling through social media, so I am trying to do more of that now, instead–to reach out to people for one-on-one contact. I am finding it so much more meaningful and the connection so much more powerful than my social media conversations!
  • This summer, I sent my firstborn off to college, traveled cross-country, and made some other very special trips, and did them all without any social media posting (aka bragging, ranting, bawling, condoling, etc). Instead, I soaked up the moments, shared them with people individually, and preserved the memories in my journal and in photographs that I shared with loved ones in texts. It was AMAZING. This is truly the best way to live.
  • I’m still a work-in-progress as the above points show. It is taking time getting away from the social media beast which had me in its grasp for all of those years, but living without social media for the past few months has been bliss, even if it is taking so long to free myself from its grip.

In summary: four months later, I have zero regrets about giving up social media.  The fact that it was so hard to give up only reinforces just how addicting it was, which proves that I should have given it up sooner! I now enjoy more time for more meaningful interactions and pursuits today because social media is no longer in my life and my mind is quieter, so I continue to work at replacing its presence in my life with more positive, productive, constructive, educational, and genuinely connecting activities! 🙂



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Professional Genealogy, PPS Review Part 2: Front Matter and Chapter 1


2001 Version: by James L. Hansen, FASG–1 page

2018 Version: by Angela Packer Mcghie, CG–1 page plus 1 small paragraph (McGhie is founder of the ProGen Study Group program)

Comparison: Where the 2001 describes the reason for the book’s existence, the 2018 foreward explains why a new and separate edition exists.

Content: Neither contains any reference material that one might necessarily deem crucial to a genealogy program of instruction, though readers deciding whether or not to purchase the book will want to read these before purchasing (especially if Amazon preview feature is enabled)


2002 Version: by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG

2018 Version: Does not contain a preface

Content: This preface, while not necessarily required reading for a genealogy education course, is a valuable reference for genealogy consumers because of the rich context it provides for the book. It recounts both the book’s history as well as a list of underwriters and sponsors of the project that spurred its publication. From this preface, a clear pattern emerges that explains the disparity between author credentials described in this blog’s first comparison-review post. The author of this blog earned a genealogy degree in 2002, the year after this book’s publication, in the classrooms of genealogy scholars with terminal degrees, genealogy credentials, and multiple scholarly publications to their name (i.e., Kathryn M. Daynes, Kip Sperry, George Ryskamp, and Gerald Haslam), while attending weekend conferences with the likes of Kory Meyerink, Arlene Eakle, and David Rencher. These scholars received some mention in the acknowledgments of the 2001 ProGen text as reviewers, but they did not write for the 2001 book, despite being professors of America’s only accredited university program of genealogy at the time. The 2001 book’s preface is recommended reading because it gives readers a better understanding as to why the doctoral-level, credentialed, multi-published genealogy professors at America’s only accredited university program of genealogy (at the time) were not included in the Professional Genealogy text.

Chapter 1: Defining Professionalism

2001 Version: by Donn Devine, J.D., CG, CGI–divided into three sections that discuss three aspects of professionalism. First section has four brief bullet points, then moves on to the next section. Second section has six sub-sections (Knowledge, Experience, Communication, Conventions, Credentials, Professional Memberships, and Standards), each expanding on its aspect of the profession. Two of those sub-sections have either a few bulleted points or a few additional sub-sections, but nothing so weighty as to lose the reader. The last section contains three brief paragraphs. Writing is tight, clear, and to the point–entire chapter is only seven pages long. Concrete, specific examples, applicable to genealogist’s craft, are offered throughout. Language is eloquent, and author of this blog has used several quotes from this chapter in presentations/lectures as a result. Donn Devine mentions APG and BCG’s postnomials, but omits those of ICAPGen. Conclusion consists of one very small paragraph, followed by 1.5 pages of citations, plus a “Further Study” section, one paragraph in length.

2018 Version: by Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, GCL, FASG–Divided into two topics, which are then further divided into many sub-topics and sub-sub topics across a span of twenty pages. Careful study of the font makes discerning categories from sub-categories possible, for although font sizes are very similar, caps versus lower case is the best way to determine at which level of the hierarchy one is reading.

First article topic–Individual Professionalism–contains five bullets (Attributes of Professionalism), followed by a category (Expertise) containing five bullets and two more sub-categories with four bullets (the GPS) and seven bullets in two separate sub-sub sections (about citations) apiece, two more sub-categories (bullet-free), and then another category (Integrity) with two sub-categories and four longer bulleted lists discussing the four groups to whom professionals are accountable. The next category (Other Personal Traits) has five rather brief categories (spanning two pages), only one of which has seven equally brief bullets (genealogist’s practices). The next category (Other Personal Traits) contains five equally brief sub-categories, spans about two and a half pages, and contains no bullets or sub-sub categories.

The second topic of the article–on group professionalism–starts off with a bulleted list (characteristics of professions), followed by a category with two brief sub-categories about why professions are necessary (spans about a page and a half). The next category (Why Have a Profession?) contains two long sub-categories; the longest composed of ten paragraph-length bullets with multi-bullet discussions in between.

The category that follows (Genealogy’s Professionalism) is comprised of three sub-categories roughly a page apiece, one of which contains a six-bullet list. The conclusion that follows is one page in length, capped off by a little less two and a half pages of citations.

Comparison: the 2001 version is cleaner, tighter, crisply written seven-page reference work. The 2018 chapter spends twenty pages not only revisiting the same bullet points in the 2001 version, but also reiterates multiple points already covered extensively in the BCG’s Genealogy Standards manual. Readers who already own both the 2001 ProGen text and Genealogy Standards will likely find this chapter redundant. The 2001 chapter contains genealogy-specific content that readers will likely refer back to as a reference from time to time as part of their workday, whereas the 2018 chapter contains mostly lengthy exposition that is neither reference material nor of practical work-day use for a professional genealogist.

Content: In the 2001 chapter, aspiring and professional genealogists alike won’t want to miss the section that lays out the average number of years that researchers have under their proverbial belts before successfully earning certification, as well as the average years of experience among the body of CGs in general, both before and after they earned their credential. This is extremely helpful data for those preparing to earn a credential. The section on date and calendar usage in the 2001 chapter also constitutes a helpful reference for researchers unfamiliar with how the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars affect research in different countries, a section that readers will want to revisit often before dating certain kinds of reports. The “Further Reading” section at the end can also be referred to frequently by readers/researchers. The 2018 chapter, while devoid of content to refer back to, proffers quotes about management and professionalism in general, expounds on the GPS, citations, and multiple other sections of the BCG’s Genealogy Standards manual. It also quotes a 1955 management theory text and dedicated almost ten pages to the theory of professions. Towards the end of the 2018 chapter, that chapter’s author writes about why it is necessary to professionalize the field of genealogy (page 40), a topic that would make an excellent chapter in and of itself, albeit with specific examples to guide the reader (the author of this blog used to list the different characteristics distinguishing hobbyist genealogy from professional genealogy for university students, because delineating those boundaries helps give aspiring professionals more clear-cut objectives as they set research and education goals).


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Professional Genealogy Text Review/Comparison


The release of Genealogical Publishing Company’s new Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards coincided with my serving as mentor to a ProGen group (ProGen 36), so I’ve been re-reading the original Professional Genealogy (2001) text regularly since last October. As a ProGen graduate, ProGen mentor, former university adjunct of genealogy, and practicing professional genealogist, I feel obligated to review this new 2018 ProGen book for researchers and potential readers out there who might be wondering whether they should buy the 2018 version if they already own the 2001 text, or if they want to know how much it differs from the original 2001 text before buying what appears to be the same book (I certainly want to know, too).

I’ve heard lots of questions in this regard. Should they skip the 2001 text now that this new volume has been released, or do they need both? Certainly, at $50 apiece, purchasing both would be a steep price to pay if there was too much overlap between the two, but if buying the new and eschewing the older title meant missing out on valuable wisdom from great minds of the past, that would be a shame, too. Therefore, I will be offering a side-by-side review to help genealogy consumers/aspiring professionals in our field get a better sense of how these two titles might fit into their genealogy libraries and career preparation. I will do so in a series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts.

To kick off this series of review-posts, I’ll start with a look at the books themselves. I begin with this overview that I made of the books’ contents:

Most Notable Format Changes:

–This newer book offers fewer chapters by fewer authors with not as much of a diversity of credentials. Total author credentials are about equal (37 credentials in the 2001 text, with 38 credentials featured in the 2018 version), but my table shows that one credential dominated the rest, as if that credentialing body had produced the book, and that there are no authors with MLS or MLIS degrees, nor any FUGA, FBGS, or FNGS titles among the ranks of either book’s authors.

–As far as author diversity goes, I am not well enough acquainted with the names of the 2018 book’s authors to know the identity of all who penned those chapters, but it is hopefully safe to assume that our industry is socially conscious enough to have ensured that this slate of authors was diverse and inclusive–that perhaps one of the reasons for updating to this newer text was to give the guide greater relevance among our globally minded profession.

–The 2001 book has more chapters, but the 2018 book has more pages. Note the page lengths that I included in my chart.

–Page numbers varied widely in the 2001 version, while they hover almost religiously at the 20-25 page mark in the 2018 text (see page counts on my inventory). One gets the impression, from these differences, that authors in the first version were simply sharing what they wanted to say in the time that it naturally took them to say it, then stopped when they were done. Some took 10 pages to say it, while others took up to 30 pages. With the 2018 version, there is more of an impression of everybody trying to arrive at an assigned page count (20-25 pages, to be exact–with only a couple of exceptions), which gives the 2001 text a more organic vibe and the 2018 version a more forced, overly-structured feel.

–The number of “Career Management” chapters is reduced by half in the 2018 edition, while there are two more Professional Research Skills chapters in the newer edition. “Time Management” and “Marketing” chapters were eliminated from the 2018 text, both of which are ProGen Study Group assignment chapters.

–The 2018 version now features research skills chapters on forensic genealogy, genetics, and lineage research specialties. (Adoption research is notably absent). This is surprising because genetics research/technology is always updating; one might easily predict multiple new editions of this 2018 book in the future as things change in the field of genetic research, depending on how specific/detailed that chapter turns out to be (stay tuned!)

–A chapter category was eliminated. Where the 2001 text had six chapters in the “Writing and Composition” category plus three chapters in a separate”Editing and Publishing” category, the 2018 PPS text now has seven chapters under the heading of “Writing, Editing, and Publishing.”

My next posts will review, contrast, and compare the chapters within the books. What I learned from them, how they applied to my genealogy business over the years, and what I think of this new book. Stay tuned!

**Update: I’ve since published my next review installment and will post all subsequent reviews here below as well. Here it is:

  1. Genealogy PPS Review: Front Matter and Chapter 1


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Why I Deleted All My Social Media – Permanently

If a blog post emerges in the blogosphere without any social media account to promote it, does it make a sound?

I’m about to find out!

That’s right–I permanently deleted my Twitter account (which had almost 1,400 followers) as well as my Instagram and Facebook accounts, which included the page for this site and its nearly 1000 followers, as you can see in this screenshot I took of my sidebar badge just before deleting it:

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 7.00.49 PM

This site has only five or six followers outside of social media, so this post won’t make much of a dent in the ‘Net without social media. Do I care? NOPE. I’ll explain below.

I have discovered that I value saving time and peace of mind more than that I value gaining followers for my blog. And it hasn’t negatively impacted my business, either. Read on to find out why/how:

(Actually, I kept my LinkedIn page, but since I don’t ever *do* anything on LinkedIn, I don’t consider it a social network, but more of the page where I maintain my resume. I suppose I could share this post on LinkedIn, since it has a newsfeed, but still, the posts in that newsfeed are always several days old, even though I have twice as many LinkedIn connections as I did Facebook friends, so there just isn’t much traffic on that site. Which is a good thing, as this post will show)

Here is why I gave up social media:

–It is bad for mental health, experts warn:

–It is designed to be addictive for profit’s sake, to the extent that executives who work for social media giants won’t even let their children use it:

–Foreign powers use social to manipulate users:

–Social media giants let **scientists use social to manipulate users’ emotions for scientific studies without their consent or knowledge:

–It took up too much of my time (checking in on all my friends and family, near and far, was just too irresistible when I had other things I needed to be doing!)

–Most of what I saw there was negative (nobody needs more negativity in their lives!)

–The benefits to my business were absolutely nil; I get all of my client referrals from the Association of Professional Genealogists website. Genealogy clients today all find me, almost universally, from my APG directory page and not via social media, so I don’t need a social media presence.

–I do, however, still get the occasional referral from LinkedIn, and that site is neither  addicting, time-wasting, negative, nor manipulated by foreign powers or sociology professors (that I know of–or if it were, I don’t linger in their newsfeed anyway, so it can’t affect me), so I don’t mind keeping my resume posted there, as I consider it more of an online resume than a social network.

**Regarding the “negative newsfeed” scientific experiments conducted on Facebook users without their knowledge/consent: when my husband was working on his doctorate, it took him YEARS to find a site to conduct his study because he wanted to conduct a *brief* survey. It took him years to get his small survey approved because he was administering a survey to humans, and there are all sorts of federal laws that must be honored when studying humans (human subject studies law is a huge thing–you can Google it!) and the places where he wanted to conduct his survey kept turning down his proposal because they didn’t have the manpower to jump through all the legal/federal hoops required to monitor his survey and make sure it met with federal human subject testing laws. And this was for one tiny survey. Now consider how Facebook just let a professor bypass all those federal laws and inundate users with negativity as part of a science experiment with zero consequences–who is responsible for that? Is Facebook now liable for any suicides or murders that occurred in the days and months after they fed their users all of that negativity? Are they responsible for the depression and divorces that might have resulted? THIS is why we have federal laws on the books about using humans for psychological studies, yet Facebook and other social media sites flout federal law when it comes to treatment of human subjects.

And don’t even get me started on the way some users treat each other on those sites. That proof is already in the pudding (and life is much sweeter without it!).

I have taken breaks from Facebook before (my longest stretch was 3 months) but those were always temporary deactivations when life got busy. I always came back later, and I always had Twitter or Instagram as backup drugs for my social media high. I was especially sentimental about staying because my youngest sister, who passed away, has a memorial page on Facebook, and I enjoy posting to it on the anniversary of her death or on her birthday. But one day it hit me: she isn’t there. I know where she really is. And if I am missing her, I will send a letter or care package to her children or donate to a charity in her name. That’s something that  *really* matters.

Since going cold turkey with these permanent deletions, I must say that my mind didn’t feel as peaceful and zen as I thought it would. At first, it was troubled! Every time I sat down, I’d pick up my phone–out of sheer habit! Only now, there was no longer anything to DO on my phone. I had a few good kindle books I could be reading, but I like to read when I have time to really get into the narrative. I typically only have 5 minutes or so of phone-checking time in one stretch (such is life at my house!) and those were the times when I’d hop on to social media. Ditto for standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for water to boil, whatever–I’d grab my phone and see what my friends or followers had to say or had posted that day.

So at first, I was a bit lost. What to do with myself during those tiny snatches of time when I would usually check in with my friends/followers, but I don’t have enough time to say, read emails or a Kindle book? I was frustrated and fiddled with my phone a lot in those first weeks. I tossed it around in my hands nervously. My husband used to watch me and laugh, saying, “I see you fidgeting with that phone with nothing to do on it!” (Note: I refuse to use video games. I’ve seen what gaming does to a person, and I refuse to go down that road, either!).

But with time, I calmed down, and soon stopped picking up the phone at all. It stays in my purse now, or on my desk, nearly forgotten. Now, in those chunks of time in between tasks, or other moments of downtime, I am more likely to gaze out the window and think. Or I look around me at the people in the room and strike up a conversation. I ask them about their day. Hey, I gotta do SOMETHING–I have just been cut off to my only outlet for socializing with my friends, so I am suddenly much more chatty with my kids and husband. My husband isn’t much of a talker, but I can tell that my kids like it. And the times when I am alone? Well, looking out at the trees and just thinking has proved very beneficial for my mind, my soul, and my creative processes. Ideas, solutions, and inspiration flow more freely, now that I am not looking down at a device like I used to.

Best of all: I have more TIME creeping in to my post-work hours now. Time for my own ancestors, time with family, time to read. It really adds up, the time I used to spend on social media. I hadn’t realized just how much time I spent on it until I eliminated it, but all the articles that social media posts linked to, the videos they took me to, the conversations I was having–they all added up to TIME away from other things I could be doing. Now I am finally doing those things. And I am happier now that I am doing them. The social media-free life has turned out to be a much happier life for me. Might not be this way for everybody, but this is how it is for me.

I am really, really glad that I gave up social media. I do not miss it, not in the slightest, and I don’t ever, ever plan to go back to it.




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© Jenny Tonks, 2009-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Top Ten Genealogy Books

This week, the ProGen study group I am mentoring asked me to share my top ten genealogy books. Below is a snapshot and a breakdown of my answer.

*Keep in mind, these are my top ten GENERAL genealogy books, not my top ten books for genealogy professionals, which would be a different list (for another day!).

In order of importance:

    1. The Source, by Lou Szucs: my genealogy professors assigned this as required reading, starting at my first genealogy courses, and it was a staple textbook in several genealogy courses throughout my time as a genealogy undergrad. I found it to be an *extremely* helpful resource, and I consider it a must-read for anybody who wants to learn genealogy.
    2. Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls: don’t be put off by the goofy title; this book is more comprehensive and informative than some books that teach advanced genealogy research techniques, plus it refers to/quotes all the foundational genealogy works any serious researcher should own, which will help them to build their library as they go, which many those other guides don’t do. The authors are also credentialed and renowned authorities on the subject.
    3. The Family Tree Problem Solver by Marsha Hoffman Rising. I already touted my reliance on this text in a previous post; it is one of the secrets to my pushing through those “brick walls” when I get stuck on a research project, because Rising presents every possible solution in this book. I can’t recommend it enough.
    4. Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills: this book is required reading by the Board for Certification of Genealogists–your citations must be formatted in accordance with the style in this book or you cannot become board-certified, nor will your work be in accordance with the Genealogy Standards (manual) which they also require. (Note: ICAPGen does accept other citation formats, so Accredited Genealogist® applicants can use other citation styles–for example applicants from other countries who are accustomed to styles used in their homeland are welcome to keep using them.)
    5. Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose, recommended because Rose is a consummate scholar who teaches about the record types that hobbyists often overlook, and because anybody wanting to undertake serious genealogy needs to leave their desk and hit the courthouses. Hobbyists are desk jockeys, but serious genealogists know how to go out and find offline records.
    6. Black’s Law Dictionary is a must-own because researchers can’t adequately understand the records they find in the courthouses mentioned above ^ unless they have a reference guide to the laws behind those records. Black’s Law is that reference work. Be sure to get the older editions, because newer editions won’t cover the laws from your ancestors’ time periods. I found it cheapest to get multiple editions on CD-ROM.
    7. Elements of Genealogical Analysis by Robert Charles Anderson. The “genealogical proof standard” (GPS) for proving one’s family history is a big buzzword in genealogy these days, but the rules of the GPS don’t include any standards/methods for sequencing/connecting the dots when identifying ancestors, nor for presenting findings. This book does–it maps out how researchers can logically prove ancestors’ identities via linkages and other helpful strategies.
    8. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val Greenwood. This work isn’t as crucial or as comprehensive as The Source (above), but Greenwood imparts a lot of valuable knowledge about the census and other record-types, making this book a staple for American researchers.
    9. The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy. DNA testing is an integral part of genealogy research today, and this book is my preferred guide to learning the ropes.
    10. Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas Jones. This book teaches readers how to master the Genealogical Proof Standard, which I mentioned with book #7.


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Free Printable for Ancestor Thanksgiving Placemats Craft

A few years ago, I was in charge of the craft for our family reunion, and my ancestral dinner placemats were such a hit that I’m sharing them with you now as a fab idea for Thanksgiving!

I used a free printable from the Internet. The one I used has since been taken down, but here is an even better one:

I printed it off and had all the kids glue it to wide colored cardstock, then I handed out paper copies of ancestral photos for them to glue to the trees. An aunt who is a teacher with a laminator ran quickly ran these through a laminator after they were finished and they were ready in time for dinner!

Note the captions and life span dates at the bottom of each photo, to help relatives who were assisting children to more easily identify each ancestor. I also made pedigree charts with photos available at the craft tables, so that adults helping me with the activity could help children put photos in their proper place–we didn’t want anybody going home with an incorrect pedigree!

I took these pictures after my own kids’ placemats sustained a few years of use, but this craft makes a great Thanksgiving activity for the kids–and adults, too!–because it gives everyone something to do while other relatives are busy making dinner!

These homemade visuals of the family tree also provided excellent dinner conversation (steering everyone away from politics–yay!), giving us a chance to teach the younger generations about their ancestors while they waited for someone to pass the rolls at dinner! 🙂

Other ideas for including your ancestors in family gatherings like Thanksgiving :

  • 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.

For the techies in the family, you can also take turns at the computer, making digital family tree keepsakes like these (click on the image to view instructions):

I wish you–and your families and ancestor-guests!–the happiest Thanksgiving this week! 🙂



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