How to Avoid Talking Politics Using Genealogy

By Andrew Koch

"Genealogy politics" will probably be a safer discussion topic than other hot-button issues. Try to steer the conversation away from politics with these six suggestions

For many, the holiday season means one thing: family reunions. And family conversations that take place over turkey or around the Christmas tree can quickly take an ugly turn: politics, old family feuds, or religious differences. But a different, shared topic might bring you all together—genealogy. Here are some suggestions for how you can use genealogy and history to avoid talking politics at the dinner table this holiday season.

Instead of: Immigration policy, border walls or refugee caravans
Talk about: The immigrants in your family

Nearly all Americans came from somewhere else, and these inspiring stories form the bedrock of many families’ identities. Bring pictures of your immigrant ancestor or printouts of his passenger list or naturalization documents. Talk about what life might have been like for him, and what you’ve been able to learn so far.

Instead of: The current president of the United States
Talk about: Past presidents of the United States

Presidential trivia can spare you and your family from having to share your opinions about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We’ve got interesting facts about presidential family trees to get you started. Did you know Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were fifth cousins? Or that William Henry Harrison was Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather? Fascinating, right?!

Instead of: The economy and US trade policy
Talk about: Silly-sounding historical names for occupations

Our ancestors had strange names for common jobs. For example, washer women were called “lavenders,” and you might get regular check-ups from your “leech” (physician). Regardless of whether you think NAFTA was good for the United States, we can all agree that “brewster” is an excellent name for a beer manufacturer.

Instead of: Obamacare or health insurance
Talk about: Major US epidemics throughout history

While not necessarily more cheerful, historical pandemics can serve as interesting talking points when you need to swerve conversation away from premiums and pre-existing conditions. Yellow fever, cholera, smallpox and polio took turns ravaging communities. Fortunately, all four have been eradicated or else are easily treatable. (Tip: Consider omitting measles from your history roundup, as that could spark a discussion about vaccines.)

Instead of: Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test
Talk about: Your ethnicity estimates

Print out your own DNA results and show them around. Speculate with your relatives about how you ended up with 10-percent Scandinavian DNA. Or you can compare your results with those of family members or across multiple testing services. Free DNA websites such as GEDmatch and DNAGedcom can offer even more insightful analysis.

Instead of: How everyone hates Congress
Talk about: How everyone hated Congress

According to Gallup, Congress’ approval rating hovers around 21 percent and hasn’t cracked 30 percent in more than five years. But strong opinions about Congress are not new. Americans have a long and proud history of complaining about their legislative branch. Founding father John Adams wrote “One useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.” Decades later, satirist Mark Twain allegedly said “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

One other great way to avoid politics at Thanksgiving? Tell your family members about our amazing Black Friday deals. Beginning on Friday, Nov. 23, you can get 50 percent off ALL our genealogy books, e-books, webinars, digital downloads and more. No coupon necessary!