by Juliana Smith
Every year it seems to come earlier. Iâ€™m still taking down Halloween decorations and the stores are already filled with holiday decorations. One local radio station has already changed its format over to all holiday music. Iâ€™ve forbidden my daughter to play that station until Iâ€™ve had a chance to begin my shopping.
Iâ€™m kind of like Pavlovâ€™s dog, in that when I start hearing Christmas music, I feel like I should be done with my shopping, or at least have a good start. Iâ€™m just not there yet.
But in truth, we still have time, and with a little forethought, we can come up with some truly thoughtful gifts–perhaps some with a touch of family history. Here are a few ideas that may help you get a start on your holiday season shopping.Â
Copies of old photographs of shared ancestors make nice, inexpensive gifts. Put a photo in a nice frame and itâ€™s ready for the recipient to display. You can take it a step further and write a brief biography of the person to slip in behind the photograph or tape to the back of the frame. This will make the gift even more significant and you might even spark an interest in learning more about the familyâ€™s history. As an added bonus, sharing these heirlooms through copies helps ensure that the images will live on for generations.
Donâ€™t just limit yourself to photos of people. For my birthday this year, I asked my dad to share some of his photography with me. He had taken pictures of places in Ireland and Hungary that he had visited–places where my ancestral roots lie. The photos are doubly special because he took them and they make a beautiful display along my stairs.
If you arenâ€™t fortunate enough to have ancestrally significant photographs, there is a collection of prints available on CD-ROM from the Ancestry Store, called Our History in Images.Â
It contains more than 3,000 photos, maps, charts, and diagrams from throughout U.S. history. All of the images are in the public domain and can be reproduced, or prints can be purchased through the Ancestry Store. Many of the maps are bird’s-eye views and I found a nice one of New York and Brooklyn that might make it on my Christmas wish list. There are also images from conflicts in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution. More prints are for sale in the Ancestry Store as well.Â
You can also share your photographs using other mediums. Todayâ€™s technology allows us to create slideshows on CDs or DVDs that can easily be shared with family members and also create an added attraction at family get-togethers. The other day, I had the chance to play around with the standard edition of Passage Express for Family Tree MakerÂ
and found it to be user-friendly. I liked it so much Iâ€™ll probably purchase the upgradeÂ for $19.95, which will add more options, like the ability to add narration or music.
Photos can also be transferred to fabric using printable fabric sheets, which can be made into quilts and other items. My sister made a beautiful pillow for my mother with a photograph of her mother on it a few years ago that has me green with envy. For those of you like me, who didnâ€™t inherit the â€œcrafty gene,â€ there are also services out there that will do the work for you.
Iâ€™m fortunate in that Iâ€™m able to spend the holidays with my parents, and although my husband has a brother in the area, his mother and other siblings live in other states. Every year I try to recreate some of his family recipes and some regional favorites for our holiday meals. Sometimes it goes well; sometimes not so much.
One of my husbandâ€™s family favorites is â€œscrapple,â€ a pork-based breakfast food with roots in eastern Pennsylvania. Made from pork and corn meal, itâ€™s not available at stores here in the Midwest, so I thought it would be nice to make it using a recipe I found on the Internet. Iâ€™m not quite sure where I went wrong, but suffice it to say, the congealed mass that I created ended up in the garbage. Even the dog looked at me as if to say, â€œWhat the heck is that?â€ Years later, I found a canned version that I could order online and that was much better.
Traditional family recipes can also make great gifts. While no one has been able to duplicate my grandmotherâ€™s cheese kuchen, we have come close a few times. For the past couple of years, my daughter and I recreated my mother-in-lawâ€™s gingersnap cookies to my husbandâ€™s delight, and we packaged up some from my brother-in-lawâ€™s family as well.
I have a collection of recipes from my mother-in-law, and more recently my husband inherited an old recipe book from his grandmother as well. This holiday season weâ€™ll be going through it to recreate more dishes from his side of the family.
Recipe books themselves can be great gifts. Every year my sisters and I are constantly phoning each other for a copy of this recipe or that. This year I hope to digitize many of our recipes and put them in binders for all of us to keep. My husband and I plan to do the same with the cookbooks he inherited. Sharing these family recipes helps keep family traditions alive and strong, and digitizing them nowadays is easier than ever. You can scan originals, complete with handwritten notes, or you can type them into a word processor where they can be filed electronically as well. There are even programs like MasterCook that do some of the work for you and can give you nutritional and calorie breakdowns for your old recipes. (Although there are a few in our cookbook for which Iâ€™d rather not know the calorie counts!)
As we move into the holiday season, itâ€™s time to pull out those old ornaments. Small frames with photographs of ancestors or holidays past and adorned with a bow and an ornament hook can make for nice, small inexpensive gifts.
Make copies of family photographs and decoupage them onto boxes for a unique gift wrap that is a gift in itself.
The holidays are a great time to get children interested in family history too. Gather some of your funniest photographs from your childhood and put them in a scrapbook and write stories about the memories that each photograph brings back. Theyâ€™ll have fun laughing at the â€œfunny clothesâ€ you wore and the hairstyles, and it opens the opportunity for dialogue, which is always a good thing.
Write up even those stories for which you donâ€™t have a photograph. My motherâ€™s story about how a monkey in a restaurant in Mexico stole her yellow scarf has her grandchildren in stitches every time she tells it. They love to hear how it would wrap itself up in the scarf and scamper to the far side of the cage, and then hold it out, taunting her, â€œEee-ee-ee!â€
Books like Grandmaâ€™s Memory BookÂ are also helpful in triggering memories that can be shared with the younger generation.
Even fictional stories that have been passed on can be recorded and passed on as heirlooms. Another story my mom shares with the grandchildren, is about a fictional train trip, where we pick up family members at each stop. It culminates with a dinner in New York, where everyone orders a different color Jell-o and an accident caused by dogs running into the restaurant results in everyone slipping and sliding, covered with the multi-colored Jell-o. The kids love it and beg for it to be told over and over again.
Also give them a chance to be the storyteller. Scrapbook supplies can get children interested in documenting their own personal history–a great first step for budding family historians!
What Are Your Ideas?
These are just a few ideas, and I have to admit, writing this column has put me a bit more in the spirit of the holidays. Maybe itâ€™s time to turn that radio station on after all!
What are your family history gift ideas? Share them in the comments section, or send them to me at Juliana@Ancestry.com. Maybe we can run some in a follow-up article before the holidays.
Still not in the holiday spirit? Read on. Maureenâ€™s article today has some great ideas for optimizing the holidays for family history results!
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Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than eight 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 of American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.