In a new survey commissioned by Ancestry, nearly three in four (70%) Americans who celebrated a winter holiday with family in the last three years wish conversations with their family during these cheerful times were more meaningful.

Year after year, many families sit around the holiday table tiptoeing around uncomfortable topics such as love life, career plans and finances, or merely exchanging surface-level chit chat. In fact, some family gatherings are so divisive or uncomfortable, that almost half (49%) of those polled skipped a family gathering at least once. Despite these statistics, Americans want and yearn for more meaningful family connections.

This year, Ancestry, the global leader in family history and consumer genomics, is on a mission to bring more meaning to holiday gatherings by providing families with the resources for sparking more meaningful conversations, centered around what unifies them—their shared family story.

“Exploring your family story is a great way to enable all generations to build deeper personal bonds during the holidays. We’re proud to empower people with tools and knowledge that help families come together and make the most of the season,” says Margo Georgiadis, chief executive officer of Ancestry.

Although Americans want to reconnect with their loved ones during family holidays, the survey found that nearly two out of three (64%) would not describe their family gatherings as meaningful, and more than one in four even go as far as to describe them as superficial or gossipy (27%). Americans reported family members giving unsolicited advice (88%), and uncomfortable topics, such as politics, marital status or kids being brought up (81%), or even arguments breaking out (37%).

Ancestry has partnered with Maria Shriver, award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author, to provide tips for creating more meaningful connections with family members and navigating these uncomfortable conversations. Igniting meaningful conversations has long been a pillar of Shriver’s work, including in her role as Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Paper, a modern digital newspaper that inspires readers to find common ground across the family dinner table. Shriver is also host of the popular podcast, “Meaningful Conversations,” which tackles tough, but important topics that shape our world and move humanity forward.

“Ancestry and I share a mission to inspire powerful connections,” says Maria Shriver. “The holidays can be stressful, but I believe they don’t have to be. We can all learn to listen with kindness and approach one another with open hearts and open minds around our dinner tables. It can take work and it often requires patience, but that’s exactly why we’re giving families the resources and tools to ignite more meaningful conversations around the holidays and beyond.”

Shriver is sharing several tips for going beyond the surface conversations and tackling uncomfortable moments this holiday season:

  • TIP 1: Make it fun with questions and games. Learning about your heritage doesn’t have to feel like a history lesson. Instead, making discoveries can be fun and engaging through games centered around a uniting passion point. Break out the Ancestry TABLETOPICS Edition with question cards that help facilitate conversations about your shared family history. It will connect you to loved ones present and past - you never know what you will find by asking the right questions!
  • TIP 2: Find common ground. Four out of five Americans (80%) wish more family members knew about their family history. This holiday, change that by talking about your shared history. Whether it’s a family legend, an interesting ancestor you discovered when building a family tree on Ancestry, or reviewing your AncestryDNA® results, your shared heritage and history helps create deeper connections across generations.
  • TIP 3: Divert unsolicited advice to something positive. Instead of reacting to unsolicited advice or unwanted comments, bridge the conversation to a topic everyone at the table can relate to. For example, discuss a favorite recipe at the table or a memory from a prior holiday to create conversation about what makes your family special.
  • TIP 4: Instead of gifts, encourage everyone to bring a special memento. 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. Take turns around the table telling the story or anecdote behind each valued keepsake.
  • TIP 5: Host a family cooking or baking night before the main event. When everyone has a role and works together, preparing a holiday meal and preserving family recipes will help unite and create new positive memories.
  • TIP 6: It all starts with being a good listener. 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.

To further spark meaningful connections during this festive season, Ancestry is partnering with TABLETOPICS, America’s popular and award-winning conversation game. The custom Ancestry TABLETOPICS Edition features fun question cards that will allow families to uncover stories about their ancestors—and ultimately bring everyone closer together. A sampling of questions from the custom edition include:

  • What is a family tradition that goes back generations?
  • What is the greatest accomplishment of any one of your ancestors?
  • In a movie about your family who would play the different members?

Starting November 1, with any purchase of an Ancestry gift membership, you will receive a free Ancestry edition of TABLETOPICS to encourage meaningful discussions, laughter and storytelling (only while supplies last).