Friday, March 17, 2006

Extend your Genealogy Hobby: Plan a Family History Celebration!

Do you cringe when you think of attending a family reunion? Having to socialize with people we don't know and perhaps haven't seen for twenty years doesn't appeal to a lot of people. Perhaps you want to get your children interested in their heritage but would opt for a more fun and easy option. You can do this by hosting a family history party.

From foods to games to decorations, the theme is your ancestors, the countries from which they came, and their personal chronologies. Many children aren't interested in genealogy until they find something "exciting" like a king or a general in their bloodlines. It's great if finding something special fascinates them, but the key is to have kids longing to find out more about all their ancestors, even the ones who might have been "average." After all, these people make up who you are!

Start by doing thorough research. Which of your ancestors immigrated to America? (Or, if you have Native American blood, research the tribe, homeland and time period). Plan a meal around the countries of origin. If you have German ancestry, make sausage, strudel, spaetzle, etc. If there is some Jewish ancestry, potato pancakes, challah bread or anything made with matzo will be a great choice.

If you're inviting relatives, have them choose a dish to bring. If one wants to bring the Irish soda bread and another is longing to try out their corned beef and cabbage recipe, (if you are representing Ireland) this will work out great. The only rule of thumb is to be sure two people are not bringing the same dish. Try to explain to your guests what country each dish is from, how that country ties into your family history, and what the dish consists of. Depending on the personality of any children involved, they may or may not be thrilled about trying new ethnic foods.

Another idea is to dress up in the clothing worn in your native country. Bavarian suspenders, a Moroccan fez and a Spanish gypsy dress are only some suggestions. This is another area where you or a guest may wish to do some research. There is no need to have everyone's clothing reflect a common theme. As long as the outfit is connected with a country that pertains to your family history, it should be allowed.

If you're setting a more formal table and not doing a buffet, you might want to write each guest's name on a card or napkin. A neat twist would be to write their name how it is written in the "old country." If your ancestry is German, Mary Ann would be Anna Maria, John Jacob would be Johann Jakob, etc.

You might also want to pass around cards with phrases from your ancestral homeland. When all the ethnic dishes have been served, you could have each guest stand and recite a word or phrase before eating. Just make sure that kids get full exposure to the festivities so they will be immersed in the culture of their ancestors. Just because kids don't always seem interested doesn't mean they're not.

Time for games! Again, it depends on the country you are focusing on. Find a list of activities. One idea is to give small children pieces of paper, show them a picture of their ancestral country's flag, and the children can draw and color the flags. You could play ethnic games like setting up a temporary "May Pole." (This is a huge attraction in most Bavarian cities). The trick is to keep guests happy and interested. Finding fun ways to appreciate family history will make your party a success.

You may wish to end the party by reading journals or accounts of your ancestors' trials in America (provided you have access to either). If you have old photos, show them. Explain to guests (especially kids) how each person is related to them. If they have anything in common with the person, like shape of nose, personality, etc., tell them. Finding a link between themselves and an ancestor sometimes keeps kids coming back to learn more. Show a slide show if applicable. Talk about the "olden days" and what times were like. A successful party always contains three things:
(1) Great food
(2) Terrific entertainment
(3) Guests always willing to come to another of your parties.