New York State Funeral Directors Association

My eldest uncle on my Mom’s side of the family passed away earlier this year, and with his passing went volumes of information I never got around to learning about that side of my family.

I’m working on a family tree, slowly but surely.

I realize now it’s going to be ten-times tougher without the knowledge of my dear uncle.

He was a veteran and longtime police officer who was nearly killed on the job trying to save a woman from an armed, crazy boyfriend.

Busy work and home lives often get in the way of learning about family members – especially ones who don’t live close.

That’s why Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Day and any other holiday that includes family gatherings make great opportunities to learn.

It’s uncomfortable having to say “Hello, cousin” because I forget names of people I don’t see often. It’s even worse to avoid them because I forgot their names.

But family members are often quite understanding – so I’m telling myself to “get over it.”

There are a variety of resources out there to help people learn about their families, some that might help make learning about yours much easier.

One of the easiest ways to get help filling out your family tree is to bring some print-outs of a family tree template to that holiday gathering.

You can pass it out inside a greeting card with a self-addressed, stamped envelope in it, or just bring a stack of them and ask the cousins and other relatives to consider filling it out for you while they’re there.

You could even pick a spot where they can drop them off near the door if they’re likely to skirt out early.

The website of Misbach Enterprises has a variety of free PDF documents that would be a great help – you just have to download them and print them out.

I think the most useful one is the Family Group Record sheet – it includes spaces for Husband, Wife and Children along with parents (to include the in-laws) and spaces for birthdates, birthplaces, etc.

They also have pedigree charts, five and six generation charts, ones for kids and a family tree chart that actually looks like a tree.

To be fair, this organization also sells charts, made on archival quality, acid-free paper, in case you’re inclined to spend money.

I’m not sure if the paper in my printer is acid-free or not, nor if it’s archival quality.


The Talk of a Lifetime organization’s website is another great resource for learning information about your family.

Though it’s geared towards learning information that’s important to remember for memorials and funerals, this website has oodles of questions readily available for people wondering what they might ask relatives to learn more about them.

Here’s a list of a few questions you can use to learn about some of your older relatives like aunts and uncles and in-laws, paraphrased from the free workbook you can find on the website:

  • What did you do for a living, and why?
  • What historical event do recall having a great impact on your generation?
  • What would you consider the proudest moment of your life?
  • What was the most important thing you learned from one of your parents?
  • Who would you consider the most influential person in your life?
  • Did your family have any traditions that you’d like younger folks to carry on?
  • Have you saved any heirlooms passed along from former generations?
  • Did you serve in the military?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • Is there anything you wish you did when you were younger?

These are just a few questions you can find in the Talk of a Lifetime booklet. A concept image of a family tree

The Family Search website has a list of questions aimed at kids learning about their grandparents – but they look like decent questions you could post to any family member.

They include questions about what their family did when together, what schools they went to, where they lived, what their favorite things were, etc.

There are a lot of free resources available out there.

Funerals and weddings are often the only times we get to meet up with most of our family members – and these occasions don’t turn out to be the right time to get this type of information.

But holiday gatherings are different – they’re not sad times and, unlike weddings, everybody can be the star at a holiday party.

Take advantage of these events and plan ahead when you know you’re heading to a family gathering – you might find people eager to share details about their lives.

At the very least – don’t forget to take some pictures while you’re at family functions this holiday season.

They’ll become priceless treasures someday.


EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association