Flip Your Family Tree

Flip Your Family Tree

Do your relatives stifle yawns when genealogy comes up? Turn their “oh”s to “ahhhh!”s with these 21 ideas for revamping how you share your family history.

You’re at a family gathering, beaming with excitement to show off the family tree you’ve spent months—no, years—researching. You’ve used your genealogy software to add all the names, dates and places, and have printed out a banner-size ancestor chart. You whip out your family group sheets and start explaining each connection to your cousins.

And then … it happens. A polite nod of the head. Some halfheartedly disguised fidgeting. The glazed-over eyes. That’s the moment you know: You’ve lost them. Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
Don’t worry, it’s not that your relatives don’t care about your family history. Nope, it’s the presentation that turned them off. Maybe it’s time to rethink the way you share your research with your relatives. Follow our 21 suggestions to flip your family tree into something even your most distractible cousins can rave about.
Tips for Your Family Tree Flip
Keep this advice in mind when brainstorming ways to make over your family tree and capture your relatives’ genealogical imaginations:
  • Knowing your family is the key to holding their interest. Are they more likely to respond to a traditional family tree chart, an online display, or a movie? If you’re not sure, just ask.
  • People are most interested in what personally relates to them, so show your cousin Gena a record naming her mom or grandma.
  • Photographs are universally appealing. Use them to grab attention.
  • Less is more. Feed your research to those non-interested family members one generation at a time.
  • Be flexible. You may need to try several different formats to reach the masses.
  • Budget wisely. The last thing you want is to spend a lot of time and money on a family tree that’ll be rolled up in a closet or stuck on your hard drive, never to be seen again.
  • Encourage participation. Let others add their information and memories to a website or blog, or run a contest for the most creative family tree display idea.
  • Try something different. Take a sewing or quilting class if you love the idea of a family tree quilt, or learn about new software, products or online tools.
  • Need some new ideas? Ask other genealogists what’s worked for them, or read blogs and join social networking sites to brainstorm about projects.
  • Make it fun. Family history shouldn’t be a chore, and your enthusiasm is contagious.

Dress it up.

Something as simple as adding photographs, embellishments and borders can take a printed pedigree chart from drab to fab. Most genealogy software offers different styles or types of family tree charts (wall charts, box charts, timeline charts or photo trees) you can print right from your own computer. For guidance and suggestions, see our roundup of wall chart printers in the July 2010 Family Tree Magazine.

Family ChartMasters has an online tool you can use to create a decorative chart. Print it yourself for free, or order a large professional printout. You can do the same thing if you have a family tree on MyHeritage.com.
Not tech savvy or lack the time? Consider enlisting the help of a professional. Companies such as Geneartogy and Family ChartMasters can produce beautiful, customized family tree charts you can keep for yourself or give as gifts to those hard-to-impress family members.
Want something out of the ordinary? There’s nothing like a little competition to generate excitement. A family game also will encourage relatives to absorb family history facts and faces. For example, you can create a card game called Who Begat You? at Ancestry Games. You provide the photos and information on 30 family members and get a 60-card deck ($45.95). It comes with instructions on using the cards to play a matching game, Go Fish or My Favorite Ancestor. With a free MyHeritage.com tree, you can play an online version and order the printed cards from blog.myheritage.com/2010/12/introducing-the-family-memory-game. UK residents can order a customized Monopoly game with places and names from your family history from www.mymonopoly.com. (Sorry, American readers: This company doesn’t ship outside the United Kingdom, and similar US companies have large minimum orders.)

Show it off.

Making your family history a part of your day-to-day life will stir up interest (and perhaps elicit information) the next time a relative visits. Ancestral photos in a wall hanging such as the WallVerbs 11-piece family tree ($39.99) would look especially nice. You also could turn the tree-themed decals and family names from WallWords.com into art. The large Photo Tree decal is perfect for displaying pictures. Visit MarthaStewart.com for a “Birds of a Feather” family tree template the kids can help paint and adorn with ancestors’ names.

If you like to sew, another great way to display your heritage is through a family history quilt. Fun Stuff For Genealogists carries preprinted fabric panels you add names to, or do a Google image search for family tree quilts to get ideas. My family has held an annual reunion in Pittsburgh since 1967, using the name ALAFFFA—an acronym for the seven core families on my mother’s side: Abbott, Lizanov, Alzo, Figlar, Figlar, Figlar and Augenstein. Aunt Helen has made two quilts for our reunions. One, stored in our ALAFFFA Hall of Fame at my cousin Luanne’s home, celebrates the longevity of our reunion and pays tribute to our family.
The second quilt, made from past reunion T-shirts, was an ALAFFFA fundraiser. We held a silent auction, and the cousin who won it decided to make it a traveling quilt. The quilt goes up for auction again at each year’s reunion; the winner gets to keep it for the year. The quilt inspires many curious family history questions from visitors to the person’s home. If you don’t sew, you can commission a T-shirt quilt from a service such as Campus Quilt Co.

Wear it out.

Be a walking billboard for your family’s history. Not with sandwich boards (that might start another kind of conversation), but with a T-shirt that will generate questions about your ancestors. On a website such as Zazzle.com, you can choose a shirt (or another clothing or gift item), customize it with a family tree or other image you upload, and order it. Or make your own with iron-on transfer paper from an office-supply store: Print a family tree or an old photo on the transfer paper, then iron it on a tee or sweatshirt according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Here’s another option for creating family history wearables: Progeny Genealogy’s embroidery chart software, a $29.95 download, helps you embroider up to five generations from your genealogy database into an Ancestor Fan or Descendant Fan Chart. The software generates a design in the form of a file compatible with most sewing machines that can do embroidery.
You also can check out the My Heritage is Here T-shirts, available from the Southern California Genealogical Society. They show a map you can embellish with pins marking the places your family members lived. Prices start at $13.

Take it online.

Your relatives are probably already on popular social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Did you know you can enrich their online experience with family history? There’s a bonus in it for you, too: You can connect with other researchers interested in the same places and time periods, and you might even find a new cousin.

Genealogy websites Ancestry.com, Fold3 and Archives.com let you share record finds on Facebook. You also can use free Facebook genealogy apps, such as FamilyLink’s We’reRelated and GenSeek, OneGreatFamily’s RelativelyMe, FamilyBuilder’s Family Tree or Geni.com’s Geni, to add a family tree to your profile and find relatives on Facebook.
Fold3’s I Remember Facebook app helps you bring your ancestors to life by creating a memorial page with information, photographs and stories about that person (you also can do this on the Fold3 site itself with a free registration; start at www.fold3.com/pages). See familytreemagazine.com/article/7-genealogy-facebook-apps for more ways to use Facebook genealogy apps.
Of course, you also could start a family history blog and link to your posts on Facebook and Twitter. Use a free blogging platform such as WordPress or Blogger. You’ll find blogging how-tos at familytreemagazine.com/article/blogging-your-memories-1.
Many family tree websites let you build an online tree and share it with others by sending them a link. Those include WikiTree, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.co.uk, Geni.com and Ancestry.com, to name a few. A free registration with the site will be required (you usually can pay for enhanced features such as more storage).
You also can pump up your family’s story with interactive websites that include photographs and video. 1,000Memories, for example, is a free, easy-to-use online service that lets you upload and preserve family photographs and memories for free—or for a bit more flash, create a family tree movie. It also has a free mobile app you can use to digitize photos and upload them to the site. Other free websites that let you share stories with photos, timelines and more include SaveEveryStep and StoryTree.

Serve it up.

Your mother always said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I’ve found this to be true of women and children, too. When you share famous family recipes at gatherings, you have an opportunity to talk up the ancestors responsible for those delicious dishes. If you’re the organizer, you can get relatives involved by assigning each person to bring a particular food.

Encourage the discussion by placing labels naming the original cook (perhaps with a photo) next to each dish on the serving board, and making recipe cards to share. Heck, you even could go one better by using a photo gift site such as Shutterfly or Mixbook to create a book of family recipes. My relatives often use my own Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes & Traditions to create favorite holiday treats. See the January 2011 Family Tree Magazine for more ideas on collecting and sharing family recipes.
No legendary cooks in your clan? Search online and peruse cookbooks for recipes related to your ethnic heritage. Also look for old cookbooks from ladies’ societies, church groups and other clubs in your ancestors’ hometowns. There’s a good chance these foods exemplify what your relatives ate.
You may build a pedigree chart the length of a football field, but if nobody pays attention, what good is it? With a bit of time and creativity, you can spruce up that family tree and turn those polite “oh”s into resounding “aaahhh!”s.


  • Get together (virtually) with other genealogists who quilt on the Geneaquilters Blog.
  • Tell your family about an ancestor who had a colorful personality or was famous (or infamous). Drama works for reality television—try using it to “publicize” your family history, too.

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From the February 2012 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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