How to have your own family history experience this holiday season
Back to Blog

Actor Rob Lowe embarked on a family history adventure that showed us all how to make new traditions this holiday by building connections using the power of family history--and the best part is that his sons, Matthew and John Owen, joined in. 

By starting a tree on Ancestry® and adding the names of parents and grandparents, they were quickly introduced to Ancestry Hints®—clues to the historical records that were likely about their ancestors. 

The hints lead them to yearbook photos of both of Rob’s grandfathers—one who was in the drama club in high school, the other demonstrating how to wear a hat with the proper amount of swagger. They found a photo of Rob’s Great-Grandmother Grouver (who he called “Grandma Goober” as a child), along with her eight siblings and widowed father. Lastly, by connecting with a new distant cousin, John Scott, they learned the story of their immigrant ancestor, named John Owen (who happens to have the same name as Rob’s son!), who left Wales with his brother to seek a new life in America. 

Through this experience, Rob drew parallels between his ancestors and his family today. “Here we are generations later, and I’m sitting with John Owen and his brother, and I think about what their journey will be as brothers,” he said. “This is the new campfire. This is the new place where we gather and we share and we talk and we remember and we discover.” 

Tips for Making Your Own Holiday Family History Magic

  • Start with what you know: Building a tree starts simply with the facts about yourself and then adding your parents and grandparents along with any dates and locations you can remember. Even close guesses can help. 
  • Use maiden names: Don’t forget to add the women in your family tree by the names they had at birth. They don’t always show up by the name you are expecting. 
  • Call your parents: Once you’ve exhausted what you know, make mom and dad’s day by giving them a call, then add their insights to your tree. 
  • Interview the family’s senior leader: Talk to your oldest family member about their lives when they were young, the people they remember, and what lessons they learned along the way. 
  • Search for yearbooks: You’re likely well acquainted with your grandparents’ wedding photo or that extended family group that hangs over the mantle, but have you checked out yearbooks? Those candid photos only published in these books are probably gems you’ve never seen anywhere else. Check out your great-grandparents’ teenage style, the athletic teams and clubs they belonged to, and the quote they chose to be remembered by. You might be in for a surprise. 
  • Check out other trees: With millions of public member trees on, take a look to see if anyone is already researching a branch of your tree. They might have collected interesting records you haven’t seen yet or maybe they inherited the family album with one-of-a-kind photographs. 
  • Focus your search to start: Don’t try to do it all at once. Pick a project or a branch of the family and focus in. Discover all you can about them and the people who were their contemporaries.  Learn more about the area they lived in—even down to weather reports on the day of their birth. 
  • Get the younger generation involved: Find fun and interesting ways to introduce younger family members to their ancestors. Which ancestor do they look like or who were they named for? Putting together the tree online and being part of the discovery itself is part of the fun. 
  • Don’t skip to that famous legendary ancestor: Make sure you have all the information you need for each generation before moving to the next. If you want to make it back to that famous legend, you want to be sure you haven’t missed a step or taken a turn down the wrong branch. 
  • Take a DNA test: Gifting your family members with AncestryDNA® can help them learn even more about what makes them unique. Find where your ancestors came from and discover new cousins who might have more information (along with never-before-seen photos) that they would be willing to share.

Free Discoveries During Thanksgiving Weekend

This Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, Ancestry® is helping to bring families closer together and feel more connected by opening free access to our StoryScout™ technology. With just one click, the StoryScout tool sifts through Ancestry's records and can collect and curate stories about your ancestors to give you easy discoveries with no research needed. It can provide free, personalized discoveries for family history research novices and experts alike. Starting Thursday, November 26, visit and simply start by entering a grandparent’s name and where they might have lived and you could be given rich, visual stories about who your ancestors were, where and how they lived, the challenges they overcame, and ultimately how their story led to you.