Sit down with your relatives and ask them, "What kind of talent runs in our family?" They'll look up and around the top of your head, as if they're trying to spot a mosquito that's flying around, and say, "Well, I don't know... Now, let me think about that," and rub their chin. You'll probably learn nothing about the real gems in your family this way.
However, this reaction changes dramatically when you pull out your child's report card and start bragging about how well he does in Art. "Oh, well, you know, Aunt Betty, she had a lot of talent in art too -- probably where he got his talent. Betty had a scholarship to study art in Michigan, but she decided to teach school instead." Then, they'll pull out some of her paintings from the attic. I'm not sure what's more astonishing; the fact that your relatives do have loads of talent after all, or the fact that you had thought all along that that talent came from your Aunt Mrytle, on your side of the family.
These mysterious memory-boosting experiences begin the first time relatives visit your newborn baby, freshly donning his new red hair, or his unusually blue eyes. "Well, he takes after Uncle Alfred. He had hair just like that." And again, you thought it was from your Great Uncle Wyatt. And soon, a tale or too will drop about Uncle Alfred's red hair, and his funny temper that always got him into trouble.
Frustrated genealogy diggers pour over tomes in libraries, and walk through small-town cemeteries. But perhaps the most overlooked solution lies in the power of bragging. It's funny how the simple act of showcasing your kids strengths to your relatives brings out rich stories from past heroes and heroines, in great detail. Some stories will be about generations of relatives so far back, no one alive even remembers them. These are the precious stories they couldn't tell you if you asked them straight- out because, without your story, they would have been impossible to remember.