About this time every year I receive several telephone inquiries from non-genealogists who want to have their family tree done in time for a Christmas gift.
The first time this happened, I agreed to compile as much information as possible within the two-month time limit. By mid-December my client decided to wait for the following Christmas. And you guessed it -- after a year of research, he delayed the gift yet another year. Three years after the initial telephone call, we finally stopped and put together duplicate notebooks with genealogical charts, photographs, and documents for his brother and sister.
This never-ending cycle of genealogical research is a common trap that we all face. Before you know it, years have passed and your family has seen little of your research results.
With Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa approaching, you have an opportunity to treat your family with special gifts that only a genealogist can create. You do not have to wait until you've finished your research -- there are numerous ways to share your family history year after year. Here are a few ideas:
Idea #1: Census Enumerations
My parents were born in 1918, therefore they appear in the 1920 census as children. One of my Christmas gifts to them a few years ago was a photocopy of the census pages where they were listed. I expected them to enjoy seeing their names on the census report, but was surprised at their excitement in studying the rest of the page. Each of them recognized neighbors' names and began reminiscing about their childhood. How I wish I'd had the foresight to have a tape recorder ready that day! And perhaps I should have photocopied a few extra pages from their neighborhood. That may be an idea you can incorporate into your gift plans.
The census gift idea can be taken further by preparing a "Census Study" of your family. Each census enumeration for a branch of your family can be photocopied and placed into chronological order in a notebook or binder. Use poly-vu sheets to protect each page and mark your family with a red arrow or highlighter. Transcriptions of each page can be added with notes explaining the content.
Use tab dividers to separate families, or if you have extensive census reports, use separate binders for each ancestral line. Office supply stores have "view binders" that allow you to insert title pages into the spine and cover of the binder. Adding color to the cover design will make your gift more festive.
Idea #2: Naturalization and Immigration
What information do you have about your immigrant ancestor? A gift could include a photograph of the immigrant, along with photocopies of the passenger list (include transcription and comments) and naturalization documents. Research the conditions of immigrant travel for your ancestor and write a biography of the person. When family members receive your gift, they may remember that they have a photograph, letter, or other documents regarding this person and will share it with you.
Wrap the gift in paper or cloth that symbolizes the ethnicity of your immigrant. For example, you might wrap the package with plaid cloth for a Scottish family. The Danish package could be wrapped in red paper with wide, white ribbon to represent the colors of their flag.
Idea #3: Homestead Papers
If an ancestor homesteaded, an unusual gift would be copies of the homestead papers, particularly if the family still resides on the farm. You can includes maps and photographs and associated land deeds. A biography of the homesteading couple will personalize the gift and create more interest in your family history research.
You might package this gift in a basket and add homemade jellies, candles, and other rustic items.
Idea #4: Military Histories
A unique way to compile family history is to concentrate on the veterans, whether from the American Revolution or more recent military service. Put together a history of each veteran, giving details of their service with accompanying documents. Include pensions, photographs, discharge papers, and information about any medals or awards that may have been issued.
The military histories can be arranged in a binder or a heritage album with a slipcover. Wrap the gift in shiny, white paper with red and blue streamers to give it a patriotic flair.
Idea #5: Photographs
Reprints or restorations of ancestral photographs are a priceless gift, certain to be appreciated by the family. A fun collection to pull together would be all the wedding photographs. This can include ancestral wedding photos and more recent family weddings. Adding newspaper reports or engagement announcements would enhance the gift, as would copies of the wedding announcements. Of course, as a genealogist you need to note the date and place of each wedding.
A photographic wedding collection could be wrapped in white lace and ribbon. Add gold or silver bells and you'll have a festive gift.
Idea #6: High School Photographs and Yearbooks
Another idea would be to collect all the high school senior photographs as far back as possible, and arrange them chronologically. If you have some high school yearbooks, photocopy the pages pertaining to your family and place them in protective poly-vu sheets within a binder. This gift will be a hit with the teenagers in the family.
Remember the letter-sweaters from years ago? Perhaps you could find a cardigan that reminds you of these sweaters and wrap the sweater and high school photograph collection together. Wouldn't it be fun if you could find some foam dice (that we hung from our cars' rearview mirrors) to tie to the package?
Idea #7: Letters and Journals
If you are fortunate enough to have ancestral letters or journals in your possession, photocopying and transcribing them for your family would be a tremendous gift. If your letters are from the Civil War or some other historical time period, include a published book that pertains to the subject.
Find an ornate box (can be found in many gift stores) to wrap your gift, and tie it with fabric ribbon.
Idea #8: Birthday Calendar
Using a family tree software program, such as Family Tree Maker, compile a list of birthdays and print them out in a calendar. You may discover that one or two dates are shared by several ancestors or living family members. I was born on July 30, as were five of my ancestors -- I would never have known that if I hadn't compiled a birthday list.
You can add a collection of birthday cards to this gift for the person to use the coming year. And how about some stamps, too? A grandparent would love this type of gift.
Idea #9: Genetic Report
Prepare a report on age and cause of death of family members, even if you do not have chronic diseases in your family. Proof of longevity is just as valuable as facts about family members with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and other maladies. Your genetic report will not only be interesting, but may be important as medical science advances. Include copies of death certificates and other items that document the health of your family. Some sources such as obituaries or military pension files will indicate cause of death.
The report can be placed into a binder with tab dividers to separate family lines. Include a pedigree chart and explanations of how persons are related to the individual receiving the gift. Package the gift with health-related items such as vitamins, cookbooks, or herbal teas. The message you want to give your recipient is that you care about their health and want them to live a long time. A person who is already active in health care issues may be more appreciative of this type of gift.
Idea #10: Recipes
Family recipes are often shared among relatives, but does everyone have the history behind the recipe? An unusual gift for the cooks in your family would be recipe cards that include personal information about the family member who was famous for the dish. For example, I have the recipe for my Great Aunt Matilda's buttermilk cookies. My children do not know that this recipe is extra-special to me because Auntie made those cookies every time I visited her. Whenever I bake those cookies, I am immediately flooded with fond childhood memories.
My mother was renowned for the lemon meringue pies she donated to the church bake sale each year. A collection of recipes with memories such as these will be cherished for generations. Look for a hand-crafted recipe box at craft sales, or create one yourself. This gift, too, could be combined with cookbooks or special food items.
Idea #11: Family Heirlooms
You may not be ready to give a family heirloom as a gift, but you can share in other ways. A friend told about a Pennsylvania Germanbaptismal fraktur (a document decorated with watercolors) created by her great-grandmother in the 19th century. She had the fragile document color-photocopied and gave the copies as gifts to her children. This is an excellent way to share a one-of-a-kind heirloom that will be appreciated by anyone receiving a copy. You could roll the photocopy, place into a tube, and decorate it with colorful ribbons.
When my grandmother arrived at Ellis Island in 1914, she wrote on the back of a postcard, "Today I arrived in the United States." A great gift idea would be to photocopy (or photograph) both sides of the postcard and mount it into a frame for display. Perhaps you have similar documents in your family history that could be shared in this manner.
Idea #12: Tombstone Rubbings and Photographs
Have you visited cemeteries and taken photographs of your ancestors' tombstones? If so, a scrapbook of those photographs is another gift idea that may seem odd to some, but appreciated by anyone with an interest in genealogy. You could include the history of the cemetery and indicate if any famous persons are interred nearby. Tombstone rubbings can be a fun addition to the scrapbook.
You might include maps to the cemetery in case the recipient of your gift wants to visit the cemetery on their next vacation.
Idea #13: First Family Certificates
Many genealogical societies issue certificates to families that can prove their ancestors settled by a particular date. The required date may be when the area became a state or territory, therefore, the certificates are often called "First Families" or "Territorial Families." Submit your research to the genealogical society and have the certificate prepared in the name of your relative. You will, of course, need to establish descent to the person named on the certificate. Frame it and you'll have the perfect gift for the person "...who has everything."
Sharing your family history in these small ways is fun for everyone. Your gift is personal and cannot be duplicated, nor purchased at the mall. Those who receive your gifts will gain an appreciation of your genealogical passion and cherish the piece of family history you gave them.
Maybe in a year or two or three, your research will be complete enough to present a compiled genealogy to your family. It might be in a book format, complete with hard cover; or, it may be an original presentation of research results and documents. Champagne glasses might be used when this is accomplished!
In the meantime, enjoy your families during the holidays and create those memories that fill scrapbooks and journals. May the joy and spirit of the holidays remain with you throughout the year.