In this era of divisive modern politics, family holiday get-togethers can be a nerve-wracking time.

Disparate generations and outlooks can clash all too easily over Grandma’s dinner table.

But your differences don’t need to ruin your holiday celebrations.

Here are five topics to discuss over the holidays that aren’t likely to lead to mashed potatoes thrown in anger – and might even bring you closer together than ever.

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Your Last Name and What It Means to Your Family

The single most unifying thing about a family gathering during the holidays may be the shared family name. Ancestry has distilled its research about family names to a handy tool that lets users look up the meaning and origins of surnames.

And once you’re there, you can use Ancestry to find out even more information about your family, such as immigration information, typical jobs, and life expectancy of people who have shared your family name over the decades.

Learning more about the word that defines your family can be a lot more rewarding than debating tax policy with your grouchy uncle.

Military Service

While politics often inspires family conflict, the military still inspires widespread support, and researching the military exploits of older or deceased family members can be both inspiring and unifying.

The Tuskeegee Airmen

For me, researching my family history taught me that my mother’s older cousin flew with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first military unit to train African Americans as fighter and bomber pilots during World War II.

Ancestry’s database of military records (with 113 million records from WWII alone) can help you discover where the veterans in your families served, and might even be able to help you figure out what battles they fought in, such as the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

The holidays are a great time for descendants to research the military service of their forebearers and to learn a bit more about the strands of history connecting them all.

Cultural Cuisine

Few things can unify people as effectively as food, particularly a feast shaped by years of family traditions. Traditional Christmas recipes seem to be as old as the holiday itself.

Arroz con leche.

In my Colombian family growing up, we traditionally celebrated Christmas with a meal on Christmas Eve. After my mother passed away, my sister, my kids, and I all worked together to recreate her arroz con coco (coconut rice) recipe that I loved so much growing up. We’ve also talked about researching and cooking other traditional Colombian dishes for our families at the holidays.

Ancestry members can look for recipes by entering the search term “recipes” into Ancestry’s newspaper and magazine database, which contains more than 20 million page images.

Family Roots

Everyone loves a holiday surprise present, and AncestryDNA gives customers a chance to surprise themselves and their family members with scientific findings about their ethnic and national origins based on their own DNA.

After I submitted my own saliva sample to AncestryDNA, I found out that I was only 1% Irish in my makeup, even though I had always been told by my family that we’d had several recent Irish ancestors.

And I also found out that I’m 2 percent Scandinavian — a real surprise because no one in my family knows about any northern European roots. The next holiday I spent with my siblings, we discussed family legends, forgotten relatives, and genetic discoveries made possible through AncestryDNA.

Vacations

Having family members in one spot for the holidays makes it easier to plan (or at least dream about) an “ancestry tour,” in which people interested in their genealogical roots visit sites that mark a turning point in their family histories.

Scotland sights you might see on heritage travel, much like Sandie’s brother

My brother, if his genetic makeup is similar to mine, could have some of his ethnic makeup from Great Britain, which was enough to convince him to join friends on a tour of Scotland.

For me, the discovery of my 30% African heritage gave me added impetus to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture with my children, where we saw planes flown (and bomber jackets worn) by Tuskegee Airmen, like my great uncle Ivan.

– Sandie Angulo Chen

However you share your holidays with your family this year, let Ancestry deepen your time with them with unity and meaning. Join today for a free 14-day trial.

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