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Find Your Ancestors--with a Party!

Written By John Richards on Saturday, October 6, 2012 | 6:22 AM

Gather the relatives and throw a party that celebrates your family's roots. Not only is it a great opportunity to spend time with those you don't see often, but you'll also learn interesting information about your clan's history. The more people who come, the better, so send out invitations six months in advance to save the date and give guests time to pull together family memorabilia and historical information.

What Guests Should Bring
Old photos - Set up a computer and a scanner and turn photos into digital files. Afterward, create an online album on free sites like shutterfly.com or snapfish.com. 

Records - Copies of documents like birth certificates and marriage licenses will help you chart your family tree (see our how-tos, next page). 

A family dish - Have guests type up a much-loved recipe and print out enough copies for everyone. Then staple them together and send each person home with a family-favorites cookbook. 

List of birthdates - Buy a wall calendar and have everyone fill in family birthdays. Afterward, set up a shared online calendar so no one misses a day. 

Set the Scene
 
Skip the name cards-instead, use an old photo (the sillier the better) to mark each person's place at the table. 

Hang a map of your state (or the country or entire world if your family is spread out) and have kids place pushpins in each relative's hometown. 

Display framed family photos as a group in a prominent spot like a sideboard or a coffee table. 

Outfit the kids' table with paper and coloring supplies and ask them to design a family crest.

Cue the Camera
 
Have a Video Chat
Include far-flung relatives through Skype on your computer during the party (download for free at Skype.com). To do a group video call with more than one distant family member, you'll need a premium day pass ($4.99). 

Record the Memories
Family tales-both tall and tame-can be enjoyed for years to come if you set up a makeshift recording booth (a simple recorder will do) where relatives can recount a favorite memory. For video, all you'll need is ample lighting, a digital camera with video capabilities and a tripod.


Be Totally Trivial
Set up a quiz game to test everyone's knowledge of little-known family fun facts. 
√ Ask relatives to email you their favorite anecdotes. Cull interesting factoids and form them into questions. 

√ Frame the questions so anyone can figure them out. Instead of, "What is Jeffrey's favorite band?" ask "Which of Jeffrey's favorite bands has sold 10 million albums?" 

√ Come up with at least 20 questions, plus a tie-breaker. 

√ Mix up the teams: Separate siblings and couples and spread out your relatives by gender and age. 

√ Print copies of a family photo for each winning team member. (For a vintage look, you can even tint them sepia at a drugstore photo lab.) Then put them in pretty frames to give as prizes.

Research Your Roots
Charting your family tree is a great way to keep everyone straight, and is a useful tool for future generations. Here's how to do it:

Write down every name, birth, marriage and death you remember. Then talk  to relatives, asking about events like weddings or birthdays. Follow up with questions about relatives who were there. 

See what's available on free websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. Look for birth certificates, marriage licenses and property deeds at court houses, town halls, libraries and historical societies. 

Software like Personal Ancestral File (PAF) and RootsMagic (for Windows users) or Reunion and Family Tree Maker (for Mac fans) can help you document your tree. 

Don't be discouraged if you hit a dead end. Spellings may have been changed-Brown may have been Braun. Also, look for non-anglicized versions of names. If your surname is Carpenter and your family is from Germany, try looking for Zimmerman, which is German for carpenter


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