Posted by Ancestry Team on November 8, 2019 in Website

By Maria Shriver, award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author

The holidays are upon us. It’s truly one of my favorite times of the year because it’s when everyone gathers around the table — from close family to brand new friends. This special season is about celebrating, connecting, and creating cherished memories — which is why I’m partnering with Ancestry® to help families across the country do just that. Ancestry and I share a mission of inspiring and igniting meaningful conversations, and fostering common ground. We share this belief that a deeper understanding of yourself, your heritage and your history helps create deeper connections across generations and uncover shared experiences that bind us together.

Although navigating family holiday conversations can seem challenging, when we put our perceived differences aside, we can find things we can all relate to, such as our shared family history. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has fond memories and positive experiences at holiday gatherings – some families spend their time tiptoeing around uncomfortable topics. A new survey* commissioned by Ancestry found that nearly three in four (70%) Americans who celebrated a winter holiday with family in the last three years wish their conversations were more meaningful. In fact, some family gatherings are so divisive or uncomfortable, that half (49%) of those polled skipped a family gathering at least once.

Today, both personally and professionally, I strive to ignite more meaningful conversations – whether it’s through my reporting, in my book “I’ve Been Thinking…” or my digital newspaper “The Sunday Paper” which inspires readers to find common ground by joining The Sunday Paper Dinner Club.

So this holiday season, my gift to you is a little advice on how to ensure you’re getting the most out of this festive time of year together:

1. Make it fun! Prepare questions and games that help you connect with one another.
Learning about your heritage can be fun with games centered around a uniting passion point. This holiday season, Ancestry has partnered with the popular conversation game, TABLETOPICS. If you purchase any gift subscription on starting November 1, you will receive a free Ancestry TABLETOPICS edition (only while supplies last). By providing other questions for families to ask and answer, you will unlock stories about your family you never knew and in turn, build a deeper connection with one another.

2. Find the common ground.
Discovering more about yourself and your family’s unique past can strengthen bonds across generations. Connect with loved ones by building a family tree on Ancestry – it’s incredibly easy to do. You will bond over discovering and sharing family stories while ensuring that the legacy is preserved for generations to come.

3. Pivot from unsolicited advice.
When it comes to how to deal with and avoid negativity or unsolicited advice, I recommend steering the discussion to shared experiences that everyone can relate to. Bridge the conversation to a topic everyone at the table can relate to, such as your family’s past, a shared favorite holiday tradition, or a recent funny family story.

4. Skip the gifts; consider family mementos.
Personal tokens or family keepsakes are such a nice way to honor your loved ones and remember those who couldn’t join you for that holiday gathering. Not only will this experience help you bond with one another, but you will these mementos and your family’s legacy will be preserved for generations to come.

5. Host a cooking/baking night before the gathering.
An easy way for the whole family to come together is by planning a cooking or baking night before the big holiday gathering. It’s a fun experience teaching both adults and children how to recreate those coveted family recipes, plus having extra hands with all the prep work leaves more time for the family to spend quality time together.

6. It all starts with being a good listener.
Listening is such an important part of connecting with others. Here are a few tricks I learned throughout my career. First, stop talking, and give yourself the opportunity to listen. Taking a pause before you speak and being patient can allow the other person to provide additional information that they might have originally held back. Give the speaker cues that you have heard them, to show you are really paying attention and curious about the topic they are discussing. When you approach a conversation with an open mind, and have empathy and compassion, you can find some really amazing stories.

I encourage you to have these meaningful conversations during your family holiday gathering and begin exploring what makes your family story special – you never know what you could discover!


  1. Marilyn

    I do agree with the comments that TableTopics would be nice for current subscribers as well! A subscription is costly and not easy to really understand if a relative or friend would appreciate. It appears this offering is more for Ancestry than connecting family members.

  2. Suzanne

    I agree that TableTopics should also be available for current subscribers … our annual dues have contributed to Ancestry’s growth and influence …

  3. Deborah

    I DO agree that after several years of paying membership to Ancestry it would a kind gesture to your members to include us in access to the TABLETALKS game.

  4. Pat D Christiansen

    I am 87. Whenever we gather the family members are asked to request items they would like to have. They laugh at my planning; but that always gets requests.

  5. Mary Bucklen

    I would love to have access to TableTopics. I’ve been a member for several years and would be willing to purchase this product if it were made available to current members for a modest fee.

  6. Judy Erhardt

    I’ve been an Ancestry subscriber since 2013 and I love it! However, it would be nice to receive a little bit of appreciation after all the investment. Maybe Table Topics for instance???

  7. Deb

    Thanks, Maria, for all of these great suggestions. A meaningful gathering takes thoughtful planning. I appreciate these ideas! And I try to remember to breathe! ❤️

  8. Suzanne Swisher

    I agree, I have been a paying member of Ancestry for at least 20 years. I feel that this should entitle a long-standing customer a TableTopics game, too.

  9. JLHF58

    I have also been a long-standing customer with Ancestry. I would love a copy of TableTopics. Maybe my family would finally get interested in their genealogy. Please consider it. Thank you.

  10. connie Mullis

    I love and enjoy my ancestry program. A copy of Table Topics would be so neat to get the other member of our family interested. I would also love Table Talk. Thanks

  11. Gayla Spence

    Thank you, Maria, for reminding us all to share stories & info with our families. The next generation will not know, if we do not keep sharing stories- maybe have a “family story time” at all gatherings—especially during & after dinner (full tummies make de-stressed, relaxed, full attention minds that do not have energy to “fuss or complain”! I do this whenever I can @ our gatherings. It’s great! +I ,too would like a copy of Table Topics. I have been making up my own list every time! It is great & fun For everyone!

  12. Kelly Vogel Cooper

    Yes, it would REALLY be a nice gesture if Ancestry gave us all TABLETOPICS, free-of-charge. I too have been a very long-standing “supporter” – what do you say Ancestry!!?

  13. Susan Petersen

    Like many here I, too, would like a copy of Table Topics/Table Talk. I first joined Ancestry in 1999. I have tried many times to interest my family in our family tree. Some have shown a bit of interest, but I think a game like thisl could possibly propell a few resulting in more memberships for you.

    I really appreciate Maria Shiver’s ideas for a more open discussion and will be incorporating those into our conversations.

  14. M G

    I also agree that long time members should get this as well. I know it could greatly help my family of 4 people to talk about anything other than politics and gun rights (which we already know each other’s ideas and opinions on) and we don’t have anything else to talk about because we talk so frequently we already know what’s going on with other. Having something to prompt people to all about other family so we can all learn would be very nice. Especially since my dad won’t talk about anything without specific prompts and his side is a mystery.

  15. Edie Morr

    Thanks Maria, because I saw your interview on The Today Show I now realize I am also ENOUGH. It was a mind blowing moment for me when I heard you say that about yourself. Thank you again!!

  16. Cheryl

    I,too, am a long time subscriber and have never felt appreciated by You’re only looking for new scribes. After the 1st year or two it becomes expensive. Give us the discounts or freebies. Also, you do nothing to get incorrect information corrected. Allowing it to be copied over and over. If you truly care about genealogy help get the bad info corrected.

  17. Judith P. Clapp

    I agree with Cheryl. Is there any other way to get a copy of table talk? I am a long time subscriber and a serious genealogist. There is too much false information in people’s trees and it just gets copied over and over. No one has a legitimate source. Just because someone had the same name doesn’t mean the record was about the person in your tree. Ancestry has made it too easy to “click” the wrong information into your file. If enough people copy false information, it becomes “fact”.

  18. Terah Cullen Morris

    With all the feedback about the “Table Talks” being offered only to “newbies” what do you plan to do about all of us who presently pay dues, keep up the website and enjoy connections? Thanks for the memories.

  19. Barbara breister

    I agree that incorrect information is not corrected. Plus the records for the federal and state censuses are not very up to date.1940 was almost 60years ago and you don’t have anything more current.

  20. Monika

    As I understand it, next year you should be seeing the 1950 Census. Supposedly this is done to protect the living. I guess we are not expecting people to get more than 70 years old, or??

  21. Patty Brennan

    Thank you Maria Shriver. I believe you must have many more “fans” and supporters like myself who will never be counted as such through our online behavior and browser cookies. But, I just realized today that you have a quiet presence in my head, or perhaps “place-mark” or “zone” of awareness ; it’s where my scanning radar sits like SETI and notes a familiar name caught by the ear in a noisy room (or a family dinner table) and draws my attention to an opportunity to add more data to a bookmark with positive associations. That’s when I discovered you already had a placement there- when I read this blogpost today.
    So thank you.

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