Serving a side dish of family stories for Thanksgiving Dinner – or anytime!

The Family History Guide Activities Section makes it easy to include family history fun in your Thanksgiving celebration. New activities you choose to do this year just may become traditions that make Thanksgiving day more fun, meaningful, and memorable for years to come.  Traditions are unique and varied wherever and whenever you find families celebrating a day of gratitude. What comes to your mind at the mention of this particular holiday? Is it imagining the luscious aroma of the over-stuffed turkey slowly roasting in the oven or the vision of over-stuffed family members lounging on the couch, watching a football game after the feast?

Perhaps your family doesn’t have a tradition of watching football, but they participate in other entertaining family activities year after year. My husband’s family has a tradition of some members always crawling behind a couch after dinner and moaning out loud from the discomfort of over-eating! I was a bit surprised when my mother-in-law and her sister did that the first Thanksgiving I spent with them

after I married into the family, but I ended up joining in the fun! I will say that it was no surprise that we all over-ate because the food was heavenly. Try as I might, I can never make sausage dressing that tastes as scrumptious or looks as good as my mother-in-law’s.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving with food in your corner of the world? Do memories of Thanksgiving include the traditional American meal? In an article entitled More People In Mexico Are Celebrating Thanksgiving, Issa Plancarte brings up a good point that is also applicable to America and many other countries. She states, “Sometimes we forget that Mexico is a country of immigrants. The granddaughter of an Armenian who migrated Mexico via Beverly Hills tells me that her Thanksgiving menu includes Lebanese and Armenian dishes, as well as turkey and cranberries.” Issa writes that “in the resort city of Cancún, Mexican-American artist Ana Victoria Calderón says her Thanksgiving now involves 40 people from four families from both sides of the border,” and that Ana’s tradition has come to dictate an appetizer of scallops, and a turkey cooked by her aunt in a traditional way — “except she makes the stuffing with tamale dough.”

Perhaps your traditional meal is enjoyed at a restaurant with friends and family. Maybe the festivities include many meals and go on for days. The typical German, Austrian or Swiss Thanksgiving celebration (Erntedankfest) is usually a rural harvest time observance with church services, a parade, music, and a country fair atmosphere.  Later in the day, there’s more music, dancing, and food. In some places, there is also an evening service followed by a lantern and torch parade (Laternenumzug) for the children — and even fireworks! 

 You may not be into lanterns and fireworks, but something as simple as including family recipes in your menu, or planning story-telling moments into the celebration can be creative,  effective ways to light up Thanksgiving Day.
From the  Family History Guide Youth Activities page:

 Entertain your family by serving some tempting dishes that your           ancestral family might have eaten, such as Danish dumplings, lasagna, sauerkraut, sushi, lox and bagels, johnnycakes, smoked dried jerky, or French pastry. What items were on your ancestors’ menu?

Discover, preserve, and share your family recipe stories by uploading them to  Another idea is to create  Family Recipe Videos. If creating a video is something you would like to try, check out these ideas from the Family History Guide Youth Activities Page:

This blog post has even more insights and links to help you create family videos. However you decide to preserve your family recipes, stories, and Thanksgiving memories, the important thing is to do it!
In an article entitled, What Does Thanksgiving Smell Like, Dr. Anne K. Fishel writes that the “sense of smell, more than sight, hearing or even taste, is where we store our most cherished and vintage memories. Once you raise that first fork full of stuffing, you begin to breathe in a memory of your childhood. As you sit at the table with your kids, parents, aunts, cousins, and friends, the homeward journey begins.” This scenario is the perfect setting for recording the stories of the “homeward journey.” Those at the table with memories that reach further into the past may share stories that could be lost if not recorded. What a gift the audio app on FamilySearch is to preserve them. It’s easy – just use the steps listed in The Family History Guide to help you out.
Check out the following idea for Thanksgiving dinner-time conversations and on-going family history interviews.
F4-03: The 52 Stories Project—These guidelines from FamilySearch help you gather, preserve and share the stories you record during a year’s time, week by week. The questions listed are also great ideas for interviewing anytime. (See this blog post.) 

Dr. Fishel suggests that if some questions “seem too intense for Thanksgiving dinner, you might just let the food generate its own stories.  Elders at the table can be asked to remember what they ate for Thanksgiving. What is the worst food you ever had at Thanksgiving, and what was the most delicious? Is there a dish at the table that has been made for generations of your family, and do you know how that food was chosen?So many of our memories of Thanksgiving are contained in the sensual details of the smell, tastes, and look of the foods. Our stories about the foods may be just as delicious, and memorable, as the sweet potato pudding.”

You may want to record your family members talking about the things for which they are grateful this year. This is one of our dinner-time traditions in my family. We have had to limit our gratitude sharing to “one item each” in my extended Clark family which sometimes includes over sixty people at a Thanksgiving family gathering!

This blog post entitled “The Family history guide’s Memories Project – your blueprint for posting and sharing family stories” gives insights into the why and how to preserve your family stories, and how to easily locate them on FamilySearch using the “All The Stories” app found in Photos and Stories .  It is in the apps gallery accessed on FamilySearch. This is one of my favorite apps!

It is worth the effort to share stories, listen, and record.  Dr. Fishel states that doing so “serves as a reminder of our interconnectedness with others. Stories teach us lessons that help facilitate change, growth, and transformation, which can be very powerful.” She shares the following story to illustrate:

“This will be the first Thanksgiving without my father at the table. I will certainly think of him as I eat the sweet potato pudding that he loved and declared “the best he ever had,” year after year. But, more than the food, I will recall the stories he told around the table. Some were about great daring and resilience, like the time his submarine was torpedoed by Germans in the Mississippi River and he had to swim to shore, wondering if he would ever get out of America to fight the war. Some stories were about his hijinks, like the time he outfitted his army mutt with a parachute and pushed him out of a plane, an event that was captured on the front pages of the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. A few years ago, when he was 90, my family and I recorded several hours of his storytelling, and this Thanksgiving I look forward to rereading the transcriptions of those stories. His stories bring him to life. When my sons and nephews retell his stories, which they do throughout the year, I know he will live on even after I do.”

Thanksgiving is definitely one of the best times to learn more about your family. Planning ahead to include a side dish of family history stories while enjoying recipes from your heritage can help make this Thanksgiving celebration the best yet. Who knows, years down the road your posterity might still be cooking the same family recipe you introduced this year and sharing the story of why it became part of your Thanksgiving dinner and is now part of theirs!

Postscript:  Check these out!

The Genealogy Kids Thanksgiving Family Food Game 

Family History Thanksgiving Ideas 

Family History Bingo

Family History Matching Game

Fun Family Activity Using Google Earth 

 Thanksgiving Games for Kids and Families

Recreate family photos for fun at Thanksgiving

Make Family History – Great Ideas for Thanksgiving Day

Angelle Anderson

Angelle Anderson

13 Responses

  1. I had such fun reading this, Angelle! Excellent work and a whole lot of wonderful ideas for a fabulous Thanksgiving! I know you will have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks Kristy! You are so kind. We know that you and your family will have a fantastic celebration once again this year! PS Thank you for the Georgia fireworks photo!

  2. Twice my sister and her family have been able to come to my home for Thanksgiving so according to my children, they “always” come. In fact, Thanksgiving means Aunt Mary to them. Aunt Mary’s children love coming because we have lots of jello (turkey is optional but 7-8 types of jello are required at my table) and their dad’s family never serves jello. So fun to have these memories that our two families will always have even though they’ve only happened a couple times. We are excited to try the activities from this site and incorporate them into our dinner hour. Family (Feud) Food sounds like a hit! (Any guesses on what “survey says” the top 5 jellos are???) 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting Catherine! I would love to see photos of your celebration and especially the jello! I am guessing green lime with bananas, red cherry with whipped cream, pistachio with marshmallows, and pretzel raspberry!

  3. Great ideas! It’s nice to be reminded that there is so much more than food available at Thanksgiving.

  4. Great ideas! It’s nice to be reminded that there is so much more than food available at Thanksgiving.

    • Thank you for commenting! I agree – so much more than food and a perfect setting for family history fun!

  5. What fun ideas! I especially love the one about including traditional foods of our ancestors.
    This year I am frantically working to turn 2,000 picture from our week in the ancestral homeland last summer into a slideshow (presentation) to share with our grandson and his parents when we visit them.

    • Wow~ Good luck with your fun project and have fun sharing the slideshow. We have a daughter-in-law who is Greek, so our Thanksgiving dinner will definitely have some new dishes to enjoy this year.

    • Thanks for the comment Jon! I happen to know that you and Kristy have lots of fun traditions for Thanksgiving at your home and that you go the extra mile to make it both fun and memorable. Enjoy the holiday!