Recently a work colleague (yes…sadly I have a day job) took an Ancestry DNA test. It was quite exciting and he had some very interesting results with a mix of asian (or oriental as they sometimes say in the UK) and English heritage. But now he didn’t know where to start with the research.

And it made me think that with the growing popularity of these tests, there are many more people that may have taken a DNA test, and they now have a lovely map with dot’s on it…and a percentage of different countries, ethnic groups and continents…but simply don’t know what to do next.

“Easy!…talk to your family!” Well, that was the advice I gave my workmate.

Why? Because that is always the best place to start with your family history research – your family!

And what better time to do this than over the Christmas / New Year break.

Although I personally don’t celebrate Christmas, I do enjoy the fact that much of the world is on holidays and spending time with family. Often that may also be with extended family and one’s we don’t see very often. If that is true for you, then I suggest that you take this golden opportunity to make a start on your family history. Even if you do no more research for months, make wise use of time with family now over the next week or so.

But what do I do!?

The main thing is to get the conversation flowing.

The best thing about this time of year is that everyone is relaxed (well almost everyone). And you know what it’s like when we’re all chilled out and there is a nice bottle of red on the go or a good strong coffee…we start blabbing away, reminiscing, thinking of the good old days and how things have changed.

No? It’s just me? (Oh…this is awkward.)

In all seriousness though, when you’re all together and relaxed, try and steer the conversation around to family.

“Dad, where did you go to school?”

“What did Uncle Ronnie do for work Nan?”

“Was there someone in the family that was famous?”

Ask who your grandparents were? When were they born? Where?

Is there anyone in the family who has already looked at the family history?

Ask about your immediate families lives too…where did they live, go to school, first job?

How did your parents meet?

Just get the conversation started. Get those tongues wagging! I don’t mean to be morbid, but who knows what the next year will bring and maybe you won’t have the opportunity to ask those questions again.

And my top tip…record those family chats.

We all have phones these days and no matter how old or what brand, your phone will have a voice record function…use it! Just start it recording and leave it on the table while the family chats away.

This has two benefits.

In the first place – recordings are great for reminiscing. I have recordings of the time we visited my Grandpa in the hospital. He has now passed away, but it is so lovely to listen to his voice some days…and usually I end up in tears.

I also have recordings of my nephew. He started with an Aussie accent but after living with us here in the UK for a few years, he now sounds like a proper little Londoner.

Mum even has recordings of me when I was about 4 or 5 years old, talking to my much older cousins.

Second (and most importantly), a recording is a great way to (obviously) go back and listen later. You are not having to worry about taking notes while everyone is talking. Once everyone is relaxed and happy and talking…sit back and listen. Throw in the odd question or comment every now and then to keep the conversation going, but just listen and enjoy the discussion.

Then in a months time you may have time to do some research. You can then listen back and think about the stories you want to investigate, or at least have some names to start getting on the tree.

Nan said that we had a pilot in the airforce didn’t she – I wonder where he served?

Uncle Ronnie worked at the Arnott’s factory – I wonder where he lived back then?

Aunt Mabel ran off to America – have I got cousins in the states!

As a bonus, in 20 years you will have a lovely recording full of memories of time with the family.

Of course, use your discretion here…I’m talking about interviewing Nanna…not setting a trap for the gossip mags. Mention to them you are recording at some point but don’t make a big deal out of it or people will feel awkward.

And be sure to tell them why you are recording – that you want to look into the family history. That might be enough to trigger a fascinating conversation in itself.

Everyone remembers the same event differently and while 9 times out of 10 that can lead to an amusing discussion, just be careful if things get too personal. You know your family…and can tell when you may have hit a sensitive subject – especially if people are a little tipsy!

Enjoy time with the family! 

Sandy