5 Easy DIY Family History Gifts

When you’re into genealogy, it’s natural to want to give family history themed gifts, but sometimes they miss the mark. Here are 5 easy gifts that you can put together that will delight your family, along with a gift that you might want to think twice about.

Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 53

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and most other podcast apps.) Length: 15 minutes.

We’ve all had it happen. We want to give a family history gift, but we aren’t sure what to give to family members who aren’t quite as into genealogy as we are. They appreciate the stories, but they’re not really that into the research. Here are 5 you can put together easily.

1. A Family History Themed Calendar

Everyone enjoys seeing who shares a birthday with them and since everyone needs a calendar, this is a great family history gift. I like adding birthdates and anniversaries on the calendar. You don’t have to put the dates for every person in your family tree on this calendar. (That might be a little bit overwhelming, especially if you have a large tree!) You  could list just the dates of the direct ancestors of the person who you’re giving the calendar to.

Many genealogy programs have a feature where you can print a calendar report. You could also download a calendar template or use Google Calendar and add the names and dates yourself. You could also buy a ready-made calendar and write in the information yourself.

You can make it as fancy or as simple as you want.

Besides adding birthdays and anniversaries, consider adding major events, such as dates of arrival, naturalization, military service, graduations, etc.

2. Family Photo Books

There’s nothing quite like a family photos to get people talking. You can put together family photo book even if you don’t have lots of “old” family photos. Even though we often think first of photos from the 1800s, what about photos from the 1900s? Photo album of the more recent generations can be just as meaningful. Do you have any photos from the 1940s, 50s, or 60s? And consider this: 1980 was 40 year ago!

There are lots of ways you can assemble these. There are services like Mixbook or Shutterfly where you can upload your photos, add captions, customize the formatting, and get hardbound books.

You could also go a simpler route and print out some pictures yourself and put them into an archivally safe photo album or scrapbook. Now the cool thing about this, it’s a little bit more flexible, probably less expensive, and can be a lot of fun to put together.

No matter how you do it, add some “journaling” — include the who, what, when, where, and why of the photo.

3. Digitized Letters or Journals

If you are fortunate enough to have some ancestral letters, a diary, or a journal, digitize and transcribe those.

Like photo books, you can do this as simply or elaborately as you’d like. You could send that off to a photo book service, or you could print it out yourself. You could have good color copies made at your local office supply store or your local print shop. (Many office supply stores will even do softcover binding.)

Adding the transcription will make it easier for people to read. You could even add a section with annotations. If you have a series of letters and they mention people or places, you could add a note explaining who they were.

4. Family Recipe Cookbook

This is a fun one! Include the recipes that you always have at family gatherings — the ones that make holidays complete. Yes, even the recipes for the dishes that nobody really likes, but it has to be on the table anyhow.

If you have the actual recipe, digitize that and include it. (It’s always fun to see “old” styles of measuring and references to ingredients we don’t really use anymore.)

If I was going to put a cookbook together, it would include the recipe that mom has used for Christmas cookies called “Texas Lizzies.” They’re like tiny fruitcakes, which sounds kind of strange, but they’re really good.

5. Framable Graphics

The fifth idea for a family history themed gift is a framable quote or graphic. Is there a saying that pops up in your family a lot? How about pulling a quote from an ancestral letter or journal? You can go to a site like Canva (which has a free plan), upload a photo, and add the quote on top. You could also make a montage of family photos or put together flags representing where your ancestors came from.

Something fun, something simple.

A Gift You Might Want to Reconsider

You might have noticed one thing I didn’t include on this list: a large, printed family history.

There’s a reason for that. It isn’t that I don’t think that we should be writing about our family history; I do. I think that we all need to write more about our family history.

This is not the reaction that you want.

However, if we’re giving a gift to someone who is not a genealogist and they’re really not into the research process, a 200-page family history will likely seem overwhelming. They likely won’t understand how to read the charts or how to navigate a numbering system to go from generation to generation.

One of the things about giving a gift is understanding the recipient. If you’re wanting to spark a curiosity about family history, handing someone a 200 page book that has hundreds of footnotes, charts that they can’t follow, and use  a numbering scheme that they don’t understand, that’s probably just going to lead to frustration rather than a sense of curiosity.

Rather than being disappointed in their reaction to the massive family history tome you’ve compiled, give the non-genealogists in the family something that is a little smaller, a little more practical, a little more fun. Spark their curiosity with that, and then later you can entice them with the big family history book.


Posted: November 5, 2020.

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  • My maternal grandparents and my mother all attended the same high school. My mother had her yearbook but we did not have copies of her parent yearbooks -different years. I was able to access copies at the school archives i used my cell phone to copy photos from the year book (senior photo, club photos, senior quotes ) my grandfather played varsity fo0tball, basketball and ran track .I have team photos. i was able to make a small photo book with all those images and gift them to my mother and her sister. Their mother died when they were 12 and 14 many of the photos they had never seen.

  • One family history gift my family enjoys is a brief (1-2 page) write up of an individual. For example, I discovered an ancestor who participated in the American Revolution. My father was in the Marines, and is proud of his own service.

    So I wrote 2 pages on the ancestor, and included a picture of the type of gun typically used at the time, and a map of the battles he was at. My dad loved it, and is very proud of that heritage.

  • I agree this is a very good idea, and I recently created a little soft cover photo story book for my young granddaughters and great nieces, telling them about the lives of their two great great great aunties ( my grandmother’s older sisters). I’m lucky to have a number of photographs of them, taken at various stages of their lives. I hope this might spark a future interest in family history.

  • I forgot to mention in my previous comment that I’ve also made copies of my mother’s cooking journal, in which she has neatly written out all her favourite recipes that her everyone looked forward to on family visits, and have given them to her grandchildren. So now they won’t need to constantly ask me for Nan’s recipe for whatever 😀

  • Love these ideas!
    Last year, I made 5-generation family trees and had them put on mugs with the root person being the recipient. I also added the phrase, “Never forget where you came from”.
    My family loved them and use them all the time.

  • Great suggestions on gift giving. About 3 years ago, I made customized bookmarks for my siblings. They were of our ancestors (going back 3 generations) and I had the bookmarks laminated. The gift was well received. Now I’m planning to do the same for my nieces and nephews.

  • Another idea is to make flash cards with a photo of a person on one side, name (and relationship for bonus points) on the reverse. Baby pictures are sure to puzzle the group.

  • My holiday gift, or in this case a major Thanksgiving surprise to my family and siblings, is proving that we are Mayflower Descendants from passenger Edward Fuller. After 3 months of submitting 7 generations of documentation, I received my official certificate on Oct. 28th to the Gen. Society of Mayflower Descendants! Just in time for what would have been my mother’s 95th birthday on Thanksgiving.

  • Super great ideas, Amy! I think I’ll try all of them for the different families so they can trade around and see more family history than their own gift has…….I’m excited to get started!!

  • Your ideas and the ideas of those who commented are really appreciated. I am ready to put some of them into production for gift giving. Thank you.