Family History Gift Ideas for the Holidays, by Juliana Smith

Shrimp Jambalaya recipe.bmpEvery year it seems to start earlier. I haven’t even taken down Halloween decorations and the stores are already filled with Christmas displays. As the stressful thought of beginning holiday shopping creeps in, my mind is screaming, “It’s too soon, I’m not ready!”

Being honest with myself though, I realize that the sooner I start shopping, the less stressful the holidays will be. Now I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that I can be done by December, but wouldn’t it be nice to have at least that week before Christmas to enjoy the season instead of racing around trying to find last minute gifts?

I’m planning on creating some family history gifts this year, and since some of these will take time to create, I need to get on it now. For items that I’ll need to order, like any AncestryPress projects, I want to allow myself extra time to make sure I can get them in time. Currently, projects are typically shipped in two to three weeks, but with the holiday rush, I want to allow a little extra time.

In today’s column, I thought we’d take a look at some family history projects that could make good holiday gifts, including some do-it-yourself projects and some that you can create with a little help from Ancestry.

Ancestry Projects

~ Family History Book. A few weeks ago, I shared some of my experiences using the newly launched AncestryPress along with some sample pages from a book I’m working on. Since we just covered these books, I won’t go into detail again, but if you missed it you can read the article on the 24/7 Family History Circle blog. An added benefit to this project is that it has really inspired my research lately. Before I commit to a print volume, I’m tidying up my tree, adding records and photographs, and the review has given me some ideas to follow up on.

~ Recipe Book. Another project I’ve started is for my husband’s family. We inherited my mother-in-law’s and her mother’s cookbooks. My husband is helping me choose some family favorites and we’re loading them into AncestryPress. They have several recipe layouts to choose from and we’re adding stories and photographs to the recipes to make it part family history, part recipe book.

To create a recipe book, go to the Publish tab, and click Getting Started. Choose Make a Family History Book from Scratch and AncestryPress will generate a blank book with one blank page. From the Background menu at the top of the page, choose Recipe Cover and follow the prompts to customize it. Then click on New Page and select Other pages. From there you can choose the recipe layout you like (with or without photographs) and customize the page however you’d like. Just as with the family history pages I discussed in the previously mentioned article, you can move text boxes around, add text, photos, and embellishments to create beautiful pages to include in your book. (Click on the image to enlarge it and see a sample page from my recipe book.)

~ Family History Prints. Following the same steps as the recipe book, you can create an individual page with a significant record found on Ancestry, print it on your home printer, and have it framed as a gift for a family members. If you’re in a crunch time-wise, this is a quicker option and in addition to the various textured backgrounds, there are military and immigration options available. Pop it in a frame and you have a nice gift for someone in your family.

~ Pedigree Charts. A new option has been added to the publishing options in AncestryPress–the ability to create and order a large pedigree chart. Using information from your Ancestry Tree, you can create a 24” x 18” pedigree chart in minutes. Follow the same steps we took in creating a Family History Book or Recipe Book to get started, but instead choose the third option, “Make a family tree print from templates.” Photographs that are attached to individuals are added to the tree, and you can add text, more photographs, and embellishments to create a beautiful family heirloom. I created one this week and was finished with it and had ordered it in about fifteen minutes.

~ Other Family History Items. Ancestry has also partnered with Qoop to allow Ancestry users to use photographs and images loaded to your Ancestry Tree to create unique gifts. Products offered include prints, posters, calendars, photo books, stickers, mugs, t-shirts, mouse pads, magnets, backup disks, greeting cards, and more. I was thinking it would be neat to dig out an old Christmas picture to put on a Christmas card to send to family members. To start your project,
go to the MyAncestry page and click where it says “Order high-quality prints, posters and more
from your trees’ photos” just below the list of trees. Then just
choose a product and follow the instructions.

There are a variety of options at Ancestry and the Family History Projects page gives you step-by-step instructions for each project.

As the keeper of the family history, there may be photographs in your possession that other family members don’t have. Make copies of ancestral or childhood photographs and share them with other family members. You can either frame them or if you have enough photographs, put them in an album. Another option would be to burn it on CD. Some programs will even help you set a slideshow to music. My family uses Roxio to create photo CD montages for birthdays.

Photographs aren’t the only item that family members might treasure though. Do you have any old correspondence? Letters from family members telling of the joy they felt at the birth of a child, family circumstances at a particular point in time, or anything else that captures the spirit of the author also make for gifts that will be treasured.

Frame a Memory or a Sentiment
A couple years ago, my sister gave me a little frame with a typed message in it. It read, “I smile because you’re my sister. I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it.” That signed sentiment hangs on my office wall and makes me smile and think of her every time I see it.

There are a lot of ways you can create similar gifts for your family members. Take a photograph from a family event and then type up a memory of the event or even a silly caption. Check out your local department store (or even the dollar store) and you’ll find a wide variety of frames. A double frame could include that photo of you and your siblings bundled up in your snowsuits, while the opposite pane tells the story of the snowstorm made you bundle up.

Family History Ornaments
Check the holiday section of just about any store, and you’ll probably run across those little frame ornaments. Trim your Christmas tree with photos from your family tree. If you don’t want to do frames, there’s a neat article on by Kimberly Powell about making clear glass ornaments into heirloom ornaments.

If you’d rather have someone else do the work, there are also companies that will create ornaments for you. A catalog I got from Snapfish included several photo ornament options. A search for heirloom ornaments also turned up several companies that created a variety of personalized ornaments.

What Are You Doing This Year?
I’m interested in hearing your family history gift ideas too. Please share your ideas with all of us here on the blog in the comments section below.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

20 thoughts on “Family History Gift Ideas for the Holidays, by Juliana Smith

  1. Creating an ancestry recipe book is a great idea, thanks for sharing. I’ve never thought of what my great, great, great grandparents ate! Will be interesting to research and find out. I’ve bookmarked your site, thanks for the info!

  2. For the last two Christmases I did this very thing. Some of our kids would call me for certain recipes over & over and a daughter suggested I put some of them together for a recipe book for Christmas. At the same time I was gathering a lot of info on genealogy. I decided to combine the two. The first Christmas I got a lot of family recipes together. With my art program I added pictures of mothers, grandmothers, and aunts that the recipes came from along with pictures pertaining to the recipe. I added comments, stories, or memories at the top of page about the person or recipe. The front of the book was a large tree to which I added small pictures of parents, grparents,etc. that recipes came from. I enlisted the help of my daughter to ask all the others for favorite food memories and added these to the back of the book. I added clear plastic page covers for protection and this project turned out wonderful gifts not only for our children but extended family members who all told me it should be published! I did the second half of this project for last Christmas and asked for photos of parents and grandparents, of our children’s spouses, & added them to the same tree cover design as the recipe book and personalized each family. Along with all our family tree info, I added blank charts and album pages for the other side of each family. This whole project was well worth it and everyone loved them. For several of the grandchildren who love learning to bake, I have since made several of another version recipe book that included a small section of family tree info at the back of the book.

  3. money short i plan to make names on mittens of each member of family fill with candy and place on tree for ornaments—use paper chain for rope and hope it looks as good as the best of the rich

  4. Another suggestion for family gifts.

    Over the years I have created Calendars for my family. There are a number of calendar programs that can be used for the basic calendar. some are probably even included in other programs, such as Family Tree Maker and, I think, Word has one.

    Last year I added a picture of an ancestor on the top and some basic information for that person i.e. birth and death dates, who they married where and when and who their parents were. The first calendar I did I didn’t think to include who their parents were and how the family linked together, consequently I got a lot of questions from family members that really liked the calendars, but were not really familiar with all of the family history.

    The first calendar,I took out to a printer and paid to have them printed and assembled. However, with todays printers, it is easy to print your own and put them together and a lot less expensive. I used a matte finish photo paper to print on so the pictures looked really good.

    As I understand it a number of my calendars were not used, they were put away in albums, for keepsakes. This is a great way to share your knowledge and pictures of your family.

  5. Every year I am in charge of decorations for our large family dinner which includes aunts, uncles, cousins and their children, all descendants of Fern and Noah Attebery, my grandparents. When we lost my grandmother at age 97 1/2 years old, somehow I got boxes and boxes of her costume jewelry. I wanted to do something for the family members and finally came up with decorating a little 12 inch fake Christmas tree. So with the help of my mother (Fern’s daughter) we decorated 16 trees. Each child and grandchild will receive a tree which will be the table decorations this year. All of the decorations on the tree are made from grandma’s jewelry. We used long beads as the garland and took other pieces apart and made ornaments. Clip on earrings went on top as a tree topper. I hope all my aunts and uncles and cousins will think this a great keepsake. Mine will probably be left out most of the time, others will probably only get their’s out at Christmas. I also have Grandma’s handwritten recipe book and will probably use the recipes to make a keepsake book for everyone at some point in the future.

  6. One of the best family history gifts I’ve come across – a future letter. (See ) OK, so it’s not for this xmas, but it’s a lovely idea.

    I love the idea of a family history cook book too – now, how to get my mom to divulge her secrets!

  7. I like the future letter idea mentioned above. I had a junior high school teacher have us write letters to ourselves, and she was going to mail them to us a number of years down the road. I don’t think I ever received it. Postage must have gone up too much.

    A fun idea that can really provide a lot of enjoyment to the family is to take old home movies (from film or VHS tapes) and convert them to DVD. It’s then a lot easier to copy your family movies for other family members.

    You can buy a VHS to DVD recording machine at a good price these days and transfer the video direct, or you can purchase a little device to plug into your computer and transfer the tape to computer to burn as a DVD after you’ve made some edits. Software like Windows Movie Maker makes it pretty easy.

  8. I have found that many people have difficulty knowing what to write about family members, special times, and treasured heirlooms. And this is especially true if they are after something other than just the facts. The facts don’t speak to for or about everyone. Sometimes it is the sensation and/or the heart-centered memory that really captures a story worth keeping and telling.
    That’s why, after facilitating workshops about writing family folktales, I published “Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories” ( that purpose. It is a way to help others record their family stories and memories. Folktale motifs (the helper, the cook, the wizard, the scientist, etc.) bring to life family characters, special times and places, and prized heirlooms in a way that creatively preserves what you want to pass onto others.

  9. I like making scrapbook pages with my computer and I intend to gather all the family photographs and produce my own scrapbook with photos of the different people in different branches. It’s very easy to do, I use Microsoft Publisher to produce my pages and you can obtain clip art free from microsoft online.

    I start with a background colour then superimpose the pictures on it, over the pictures or around the page I add frames or bits of clip art that suit the subject. Finally I use a good quality photo paper and print my page. I currently keep my scrapbooks in project folders with plastic leaves, that you can buy from staionery stores. However, for this family project I am going to have the pages bound with good cardboard covers that I will design and print.

  10. The house that my husbands family grew up in is going to be torn down. Habitat for Humanity is getting what they can out of it. I was thinking about taking pictures of it and finding the old pictures and putting togeather a grouping to give to his only living relative, an aunt. From “1900 to today” sort of thing. I also have the journals of the price of the items as the house was built.

  11. we have 4 boys. I went thru our old pictures an made a12x16 collage picture for each of them with the childhood pictures that was of them. it was a lot of fun for me ,and brought back
    lots of memories for them.

  12. I read of this idea in a magazine, laminate an A4 sheet of Christmas paper with a family picture in the middle to use as place mats. You can use a pic of the person as a child or an ancestors pic.

  13. One of my grandsons asked if I had a picture of their father when he was a child. I put together an album of pictures of their dad from the earliest age until recently. I left the narative for their father to tell them. The only thing I added was the year the picture was taken. The grandson who asked for the picture and his brother enjoyed the album and it is on display at their father’s home. I plan on making similar albums for my other grandchildren. It was fun to listen to the grandsons go through the album initially and make comments.

  14. I have printed out my mother’s story of the births of all her children to give to each of my siblings this year. I interviewed her while she was in a nursing home and typed it up a few years ago. She died in 2006 so I thought that this year would be a good year to present each of my siblings with an account of the day that they were born as told by their mother.

  15. I enjoyed reading about all of the interesting things that can be done in my programs. However, I would love to learn how to move my family pictures from my photo program to the various pages of my family tree pages. Please help me.



  17. Definately will not go to Vilamoura anymore, 6 Hour rounds of Golf and 4.5 Euros for a beer , we will stay clear of the Vilamoura golf courses this year, and the so called free shuttle bus turns up if you are lucky.

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