Seems every few years, some Hollywood starlet who apparently skipped her last salon appointment is photographed sporting dark roots on otherwise-blond locks. Suddenly trendy towheads across the country adopt two-tone hairdos, and a fad is born.
I’ve never been one to latch onto the latest style, but I’m running with this one—sort of. It’s always fashionable to show your roots in genealogy circles. I encourage you to shamelessly jump on the bandwagon with me and use one of these 11 ways to turn your family tree into a keepsake you (and your descendants) can exhibit with pride.
No tacky roots displays here: Our suggestions range from attractive, easy-to-customize wall charts to simple needlework. You say you lack a single crafty gene? You won’t need one. Most of these tree projects don’t require any special knowledge or skills beyond the ability to operate scissors or click a mouse. If time’s your problem, look at our super-quick heritage-themed holiday gift ideas. So go ahead, flaunt your ancestry—and when your best friend whispers “I can see your roots!” just smile and say thank you.
1. Printed Family Tree Chart
Whether or not your relatives happen to be wallflowers, walls are wonderful places to show off your tree. If you use genealogy software, it’s pretty easy to print a nice-looking wall chart with the data you’ve already entered. You want a typo-free tree for posterity, so make sure your spellings are correct (surname variations notwithstanding) and you haven’t transposed anyone’s birth year.
2. Family Tree Photo Wall
Invite your ancestors into your living room—or dining room or stairwell—with a family tree photo wall. For a neat, coordinated look, scan your photos and print them in black and white or sepia tone (which also lets you keep the originals safely stored), and use matching frames and mats. Inscribe names and life dates on the mats, or stick on clear mailing labels with the info printed in a pleasing font. You can hang the photos to correspond with your family tree shape, or group photos from each family. First sketch out a plan on paper. Then test the arrangement by tracing your frames onto brown paper bags, cutting out the shapes and taping them to the wall.
3. Photos or Documents Printed on Fabric
The advent of photo-transfer paper for your computer printer means you can easily put any image—such as a photo, scanned scrapbook page or family tree chart—onto almost any cloth surface. Wear your tree close to your heart on a T-shirt, carry it around on a canvas tote or rest your weary head upon a throw pillow adorned with it. Light-colored fabrics yield the best results; use items you already have or purchase new ones at a craft store.
You can pick up a product such as Photo Effects Ink Jet Transfer Paper at craft retailers including Jo-Ann Stores. Create the design on a computer, making sure to flip your family tree horizontally so the names won’t be backward once you’ve transferred the image. Before printing on the costlier transfer paper, do a practice run on regular paper. Then follow the paper manufacturer’s instructions for ironing the design onto your fabric. Find more photo-transfer advice ideas here.
4. Family Tree Sampler Embroidery
Embroider a family tree sampler and you’ll become part of a long tradition. Creating samples was de rigueur for girls’ education during the 18th and 19th centuries. Not long ago, National Archives and Records Administration staff discover six 200-year-old linen-and-silk samplers among its Revolutionary War pension files. Families claiming pensions submitted the designs, which incorporated family information to show proof of their relationships to Revolutionary War veterans.
You won’t have to labor as intensively over such needlework as your forebears did. Online and at sewing and craft stores, kits contain everything you need, including family tree embroidery patterns—from simple to intricate. The Hollie Designs tree is available from Genealogy Shoppe.
5. Family Tree Quilt
Once a purely practical means to use every last scrap of worn-out clothing, quilting took off as an art form around 1840. Practitioners have invented thousands of designs, and it was only a matter of time before they began to stitch their ancestors’ names into their creations.
The innovation of photo-transfer products lets you deposit your relatives’ likenesses onto fabric and sew them into a family tree quilt. Incorporating sentimental swatches, perhaps from Dad’s overalls or Mom’s prom dress, makes the blanket even more meaningful. Signature quilts feature family autographs embroidered or written with a permanent pen.
An experienced seamstress might be able to whip together a family tree quilt in a weekend or two. Beginners should start with a small quilt and a simple design. Look for family tree quilt patterns at sewing stores and websites. You can find lots of options for patterns and kits here.
6. Tabletop Photo Tree
Use your scanner to downsize family photos, then put them in frames suspended from a tabletop photo tree. Add mementos such as bronzed baby shoes, Aunt Sally’s silver candleholder or Grandma’s hankie to your tabletop display.
7. Family Tree Bulletin Board
Go to the office-supply store and buy a bulletin board. If you’d like to up your display’s decorative quotient, paint the frame and cover the cork with fabric. Label copies of ancestors’ photos with their names and use thumbtacks to fasten them in family tree order. Then hang in your kitchen or den.
8. Photo Calendar
You won’t forget your ancestors’ birthdays and anniversaries if you include them in a photo calendar with a family tree on the cover and heirloom pictures on the pages. Record modern modern relatives’ special days inside, too.
The easiest way to assemble a calendar is to use a photo printing service such as Shutterfly, Walgreens, Mpix or Snapfish. Just drop in scanned pictures, type data in the template, and order. While you’re at it, have extra calendars made as gifts or family-reunion favors. Crafty types can purchase blank calendars at craft stores, then use glue and scissors to add photos and decorations.
9. Family History Shadow Box
Putting your family tree in a shadow box—a deep frame with a backing for attaching photos and small objects—lets you add mementos such as a brooch or military medal. Cover your frame’s background with pretty paper or cloth if you want, then use pins or double-sided adhesive to attach photos and name labels in tree formation. Check for shadow box frames and kits at framing and art-supply stores. For ideas, see Family Tree Page Ideas for Scrapbookers (Memory Makers Books).
10. Photo Jigsaw Puzzle
Even if you’ve hit a mile-high brick wall, it’s easy to unpuzzle your past when you turn your family tree into a jigsaw puzzle. Purchase a do-it-yourself kit from a craft store, or have a puzzle made—just scan your family tree, save it as a JPG file and send it to a service such as Jigsawpuzzle.com. For best results, use a colorful chart with photos and large print.
11. Photo Ornaments
Turn your Christmas tree into a family tree with small frame-style ornaments, which you can purchase or make. Insert a photo in each one, label the ornament back with names and dates and hang families together (or give your grandkids a five-generation chart and let them figure out where everyone goes while you sip hot cocoa by the fire). When the tree comes down, suspend the ornaments from an evergreen or grapevine wreath in your living room.
12. Heirloom Pass Down
It’s OK to start this project and not finish it. Stitch or inscribe your name into a treasured item, such as a baby dress, prayer book or the something-blue hankie you carried at your wedding. Add your birth date or the date you used the heirloom. When you pass it down, instruct the new owner to record his or her name alongside yours.
Come on, let’s see those roots. Your mother won’t mind in the least when you follow the genealogy crowd and show off your family tree. Besides, all the cool people are doing it.
Books for More Family Tree Ideas and Inspiration
Family Trees: A Manual for Their Design, Layout & Display by Marie Lynskey (Phillimore & Co.)
Fun With Family Photos by Jennifer and Leslie Barry (Ten Speed Press)
Memory Quilts in the Making, edited by Rhonda Richards (Oxmoor House)
The Photo Transfer Handbook: Snap it, Print it, Stitch it! by Jean Ray Laury (C&T Publishing)
Cross Stitch Antique Style Samplers: Over 30 Cross Stitch Designs Inspired by Traditional Samplers by Jane Greenoff (David & Charles)
A version of this article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Family Tree Magazine.