Find your ancestors in Christmas traditions and records. Explore them in these 12 Days of Christmas - genealogy-style!
Genealogy Research

Holiday Heritage Hunt: 12 Days of Fascinating Genealogical Treasures

Find your ancestors in the records of the holidays they celebrated! Seasonal holidays generated many Christmas genealogy records you can use to find your ancestors.

The holidays are upon us. We are shopping, baking, wrapping presents, traveling….. and more! 

Despite all the business of the season, Christmas (and holidays in general) is a fantastic time of year to research your genealogy and family history.


I was, too, initially, but it makes sense.

Religious holidays such as Christmas create their own records and their own traditions. These traditions can be handed down through the generations.

Trace your ancestors in their holiday records! Your ancestors's Christmas traditions created genealogy records you do not want to overlook.

Have you considered what traditions and associated records can tell you about your ancestors? And how to track your ancestors?

If not careful, we as family historians and genealogy researchers can miss their meanings entirely. We can lose out on valuable records and resources to find our ancestors. Christmas and holiday records are absolutely “out of the box” genealogy records. [You know who much I love those!]

Remember: Your ancestor’s holiday traditions generated records!

Gaining an understanding of your ancestor’s religious and secular celebrations of Christmas is important in understanding where to find holiday themed records.

I should note here that while most of these records revolve around the Christmas holidays, your ancestors of a different faith would have generated similar record based on their specific religious holidays and customs.

Genealogy Tip: Take time to learn what holiday and customs your ancestors celebrated. You will then be prepared to search for the records!

Find your ancestors in Christmas traditions and records. Explore them in these 12 Days of Christmas - genealogy-style!
Source: Library of Congress

12 Days of Christmas Genealogy Records

Now that I’ve put the “12 Days of Christmas” tune in your head for the next week (!), let’s explore 12 types of Christmas genealogy records and resources.

Yes, I’ve got 12 “out of the box” Christmas genealogy records and resources for you to explore this holiday season.

1.Oral Histories

The holidays are a popular time for gathering oral history and also creating oral  history recordings.  Family is gathering, telling stories and re-living earlier days. Don’t rush this! A cup of coffee is often your best genealogy tool in the toolbox!  You may be surprised at what you learn.

Additionally, ask your family members if  any oral history recordings or videos in your family exist.  If so, take them out and listen/watch.  Make your own oral history recordings.  Today’s smart phone technology makes it easier than ever. Learn more about how to interview family members with memory loss.]

2. Christmas Cards and letters

Love them or hate them, Christmas cards and letters been around for a long time!  Image my excitement when I  discovered a number of Christmas cards in my grandmother’s photograph boxes.  Some were family, and some are not.

Trace your ancestors in their holiday records! Your ancestors's Christmas traditions created genealogy records you do not want to overlook.

Why? – Christmas cards place family members in time and often in place.  Be sure and check any envelopes for  return addresses and postmarks. You can track your ancestor’s location through the postmark.

Photograph Christmas cards are even better! These can be the only photograph you have of an ancestor. Those holiday letters provide family details and stories that let you really get to know your ancestors.

Use seasonal holiday records for your genealogy research to find your ancestors. You'll be surprised what you are overlooking! #genealogy #familyhistory #christmas

3. Address Books

Before smartphones, we once stored all our important numbers and address in the family address book.  I remember watching both my grandmother and my mother writing out Christmas cards and using their address books.

Do you  – or someone in the family – have an old address book?

Carefully, go through the old family address book.  Make note of family member addresses and any extra notes by a name.

4. Christmas Ornaments

Does your family have special heirloom ornaments? What is the story behind those ornaments? Are they unique to a specific culture? Do you understand the family culture and how it impacts your research?

Trace your ancestors in their holiday records! Your ancestors's Christmas traditions created genealogy records you do not want to overlook.

Ask! You can learn important social history on your family.

5. Special Recipes

What does your family eat for Christmas dinner? Are there culturally specific dishes that you have each year? Do you know the history of these dishes and why they are important to your family?

Research any special foods and dishes to see what you can learn about how and why your ancestors celebrated with these foods.

Christmas cookies

6. Church Pageant Programs

Who remembers being a part of a church Christmas pageant? You’re ancestors likely did, too!  Seek out those old Christmas programs that were saved either in your family or in the church archives. Find not only your ancestor(s), but also collateral ancestors and families. Use these to place ancestors in place and time.

7. Church Newsletters

Church newsletters are full of church family activities at Christmas. Often female ancestors will be found in these newsletters and they organize programs and charity type events. These might be tucked in old family photo albums, the family Bible or in the church archives.

Tip: Check with the church historian. It is worth your effort.

8. School Programs

What parent does not save some of their child’s school artwork? School programs?

Just like church programs, school Christmas and holiday programs provide information on the community as well as placing families and children in time and place.

If you find a school program tucked in the family memorabilia, seek out other school records to use in your genealogy research.

9. Newspapers

During the holiday season, your ancestors traveled to visit family and friends just as we often do today.  Society pages in newspapers often wrote blurbs on who went visiting and who had visitors.

Names, relationships and locations about families and individuals can be found in these blurbs. These society pages are excellent sources of family information.

10. Vertical Files

Vertical files are like a “box of chocolates”. You never know what you are going to get!  [I hope Tom Hanks from Forest Gump forgives me taking liberties with that phrase.]

But….it’s true. Vertical files can hold a wide variety or genealogy related materials, including church histories, town histories, newspaper articles, written family histories, photos, holiday programs and much more.

If you make a visit back to your where you ancestors lived this holiday, take time to visit the vertical files in the local library.

11. Photographs

Family photographs hold clues to your family history search. While you may have hundreds of photos on your smartphone right now, our ancestors did things a bit differently. Photographs were taken on more special occasions like Christmas. Ask your relatives to bring our the old family photos. Nothing sparks a family history conversation like an old family photo!

old photo album

[Not sure who is in those old family photos?  Check out my Identify Your Ancestor in That Old Family Photograph e-book and workbook.]

12. Family Reunions

Family reunions – whether big or small – are the place to re-connect with your family including past generations. Share your findings and ask your genealogy questions.  You never know who has the answer to your burning genealogy question.

I was surprised to find out about a name change at one family gathering.  What was common knowledge a few generations ago, never made it to my generation, and I never thought to ask.

So….share your knowledge AND ask your questions!

Vintage Santa - Holiday Genealogy Records

There you have it – 12 Days of Christmas Genealogy Records for you to explore!

Take time out this holiday season to find your ancestors and re-connect with your family and heritage.

Other Christmas Posts You Will Enjoy (and to help with your Christmas shopping)

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