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
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
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 German baptismal
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
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.