Giving Trees

By Diane Haddad Premium

A few years back, my mom’s family decided to simplify Christmas by exchanging homemade gifts. To add suspense to the gathering, a relative who shall remain nameless cooked up the idea of a Yankee swap: Everyone brings a wrapped gift and picks a number. In order, you either open a gift or “steal” someone else’s. (Note: Under no circumstances should highly competitive clans, those with tension simmering just below the surface, or those whose members like an adult beverage or five attempt the Yankee swap. Trust me.) Sure, there were a few duds: my uncle’s leopard-print throw pillow, a painted ceramic cat. And my own contribution? Suffice it to say my selfless mother gave it a home (love ya, Mom!).

The most-stolen presents, though, spoke quietly of our family’s heritage. My aunt brought a mini-album with my grandparents’ 1946 wedding portraits. Mom framed a copy of her dad’s WWII citation of honor; another relative did the same with my great-aunt’s 1942 poem about Herringer’s Original Boosters (that was the moniker for Grandpa and his pals — they were regulars at a Bellevue, Ky, saloon before going to war together). We just settled the last custody suit over that one.

The family history gift ideas on these pages are equally simple and will inspire the same feelings of nostalgia (and cutthroat aggression) among your relatives. Just use our step-by-step instructions to combine the genealogical research you’ve already gathered with some inexpensive supplies from the local craft store. And we’ve rated each idea according to skill level, time investment and estimated cost per gift — but they’re all quick and easy enough for even the worst procrastinator to construct in time for family gatherings. Then you can sit back and watch the rivalry begin.

Plant a memory

A heritage plant is special for some reason — maybe it’s lamb’s ear descended from Grandma’s garden, Dad’s favorite herb or a rooted ivy cutting from a cousin’s wedding bouquet. Buy seedlings at a nursery or propagate ones from your garden — see You Grow Girl for how-tos.

You will need

• white cardstock

• fine-tip pens

• scissors

• hole punch

• heritage plant

• small flowerpot

• potting soil

• sheet moss

• raffia or ribbon


•1• Download the decorative tag templates from our Web site. Type the significance of the plant and care instructions (see photo). Print and cut out the tags and punch holes in each. (Shortcut: Buy inexpensive tags from an office supply store.)

•2• Place moss in the bottom of the flowerpot. Add soil and the plant. Water, add more soil if necessary, and cover the soil surface with more moss.

•3• Use raffia to tie a tag to each pot.

Call glass to session

Put these pretty magnets on the fridge and say hello to your ancestors at noshtime. High-contrast photos will look best with this project — convert them to sepia tone for vintage appeal.
You will need

• printed copies of old photographs

• sharp scissors

• large, clear glass gems (available at craft stores)

• clear-drying glue (we used Aleene’s Clear Gel Tacky Glue)

large round magnets


•1• Cut your photo larger than the glass gem. Put a small drop of glue on the gem’s flat side and spread it around with your finger. Press the gem onto the photo, centering it over the subject’s face. Let dry.

•2• Use the scissors to trim the photo as close to the gem as possible. Turn over the gem and glue a magnet to the back of the paper. Let dry.

Right up your alley

time: *

skill level: *

cost per gift: *


Go ahead, brag a little

A small brag book is a nice keepsake and an easy way to share photos. We’ve jazzed up this one with scrapbooking papers, but if you like the minimalist look, purchase a colored book and just add the label.

You will need

• 6×6-inch spiral-bound blank album (we used one by Canson <>)

• Coordinating 12×12-inch scrapbook papers (cardstock is too stiff for this): two sheets for the covers, another for the inside covers and spine

• solid coordinating cardstock (for label)

• craft glue (such as Aleene’s)

• old brush fine-tip archival marker 18 photos

• photo comers


•1• Download the templates from our Web site (you’ll also find how-tos for adjusting them for different-size albums). Print the cover pieces onto the matching paper sheets; print the spine and inside cover templates onto the third sheet. Cut out the pieces along the solid lines. Fold in the top and bottom edges of the spine piece where indicated and glue the flaps.

•2• First, glue on the cover sheets. Use a brush to apply glue thinly to the album’s back cover. Place the back cover paper with one edge close to the spiral binding and an even border overhanging the other sides. Smooth into place and let dry. Open the album to the inside back cover. Fold in the corners of the cover sheet along the dotted lines and glue, then fold in and glue each flap as shown (below). Wipe away excess glue, close the book and let dry. Repeat for the front cover.

•3• Glue the inside cover sheets in place, positioning each close to the spiral and leaving a narrow border on the other sides. Let dry.

•4• Close the book. Apply glue to the long edges of the spine paper, center it on the album spine and press into place (below). Let dry. Type your family name in a word document, print and cut out in an oval or rectangular shape. Glue onto the cover.

•5• Use photo corners to affix photos to each album page. Write the date and subjects’ names beneath each photo.


Wear your heritage on your sleeve

Thanks to iron-on transfer paper, you can put family faces on a myriad of fabric items — most craft stores carry plain ones for this purpose. If you’re ambitious, sew a memory quilt with pictures and scraps of clothing from the people in them. Or go slightly simpler with this T-shirt.

You will need

• light-colored T-shirt

• iron-on transfer paper compatible with your printer (we used Epson ink-jet transfer paper)

• large digitized photo (use one with good contrast between the lights and darks)

• digitized family tree (optional)


•1• Follow the iron-on transfer paper manufacturer’s instructions for preparing your fabric item. (For example, you may need to wash and dry it first.)

•2• Turn your family tree into a JPG or PDF file (most genealogy programs let you export a report in either format). Then you’ll need to flip the tree so the names won’t be backward after you transfer the images (the same goes for your photo, if it includes words). You can do this in a photo editor or a viewing utility such as the Adobe Reader or Mac’s Preview — choose Flip Horizontal from the Tools menu. Load the transfer paper in your printer, carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions so the image prints on the correct side of the paper. Print the photo and family tree onto separate sheets of the paper.

•3• Transfer the photo to the front of the shirt. For most transfer papers, use a hot, dry iron. Press the fabric first — transfers adhere better to a hot surface. Position the transfer printed-side-down on the fabric and press hard with the iron for the specified time (usually 20 to 30 seconds). Slowly slide the iron to the next area and repeat until you’ve covered the whole transfer. Lift a comer while the shirt is hot. If the transfer looks OK, peel off the paper. Let cool, then transfer the tree to the back.

Share & share alike

A CD containing the bounty of family photos and documents you’ve discovered tells a visual story of your family history — and it’s easy to crank out duplicates. You can simply copy photos onto the CD or use software to create a slide show. PowerPoint is great for that purpose; some digital cameras and scanners come bundled with slide show software, too.

Right up your alley

time: *

skill level: **

cost per gift: *

You will need

• blank CD

• digitized photos and documents digitized family tree chart (optional)

• computer with CD burner

• blank CD inserts and labels with design software (available at office supply stores)

• CD jewel case


•1• Choose the photos you want in your slide show, copy the files and put them all in one folder. Determine the order in which you want them to appear and name the photos accordingly: grant_joseph_01 If you want to include a family tree chart, create one with your genealogy software, save it in PDF format (look under File Export) and put it in the same folder.

•2• CDs generally hold 650 to 700MB of data — about 325 2MB pictures. Start your presentation with a title page — something like Smith Family Photos, 1850 to 1950 — then add your tree and one photo or document per slide. (In PowerPoint, select Insert >Picture> From File from the toolbar, find the photo in the browser window, and click OK.) On each slide, add captions with the date and names of people in the photo.

•3• Follow your CD burning software’s or your computer manufacturer’s instructions to “burn” the slide show on a CD. In Windows XP, just insert a blank CD and a wizard pops up. Click Open Writable CD Folder, then drag files into the folder and click Write These Files to CD. In Mac OS X, insert a blank CD, select the Standard format and drag the files into the CD icon. Drag the CD icon into the trash can to bum it.

•4• You can create CD inserts and labels using an attractive background from our Web site or design them with the software that came with your blank CD labels and inserts. (Your CD burner may have similar software you can use.) Include your CD title and a photo on the insert. Print the labels and inserts, then apply the label to your CDs and place the insert in the jewel case.

 Cook up family history

Food equals nostalgia, so a box filled with family recipes is a touching gift. See the December 2004 Family Tree Magazine for help gathering the how-tos for your clan’s favorite dishes. Need a shortcut? Buy a recipe box with matching cards and fill them in.

You will need

• wood or papier-mâché recipe box

• acrylic craft paint

• paintbrush

• fine sandpaper (for a wooden box)

• clean cloth

• water-based spray varnish

• photo of your clan’s best cook

• 8 ½ x11-inch white cardstock

• craft glue

• old paintbrush

• decorative paper

• index card dividers

• family recipes


•1• Paint the recipe box and let dry. If it’s wooden, lightly sand the surface and remove the dust with a damp cloth. Paint the box again. When dry, apply varnish in a well-ventilated area. Let dry.

•2• Photocopy or print your picture onto cardstock and cut it out. Glue it onto decorative paper and trim the paper to leave a ?-inch mat. (To crop the image into an oval, as we did, use the templates on our Web site.) Using an old paintbrush, apply glue to the back of the mat. Press it onto the lid.

•3• If you have old family recipe cards, color-photocopy them onto cardstock and cut them out. To make a set of new cards, download the card template from our Web site, print onto cardstock and write out your recipes. Cut out the cards and place in the box with the dividers.

Right up your alley

time: ***

(plus drying time for paint and varnish)

skill level: **

cost per gift: ***

Make a good impression


Right up your alley

time: ***

(plus driving time)

skill level: ***

cost per gift: **

Besides preserving genealogical information, tombstone rubbings make striking wall art. Don’t attempt one on a deteriorating stone, and ask the caretaker for permission. If you already have a rubbing, have it reproduced and frame the copies.

You will need

• several yards of nonfusible cutaway fabric interfacing (rub it firmly between your fingers — if it pills, it’s not the right stuff)

• tombstone rubbing wax or black jumbo crayon with the paper peeled off

• masking tape and someone to help hold the fabric

• iron

• old towel

• set of wooden canvas stretchers large enough to hold the finished rubbing, or a large photo frame and mat

• Staple gun

• Sawtooth picture hangers


•1• Cut a piece of interfacing big enough to wrap around the tombstone front. Tape it to the stone’s back and have a helper hold it taut.

•2• Rub the wax or broad side of the crayon over the fabric and watch the image appear. Don’t let the fabric shift as you work.

•3• At home, place the rubbing face up on an ironing board and lay an old towel on top. Press with a hot, dry iron to set the crayon or wax into the fabric.

•4• Assemble the canvas stretchers into a frame (ours pushed together; some come with metal fasteners you hammer into the corners). Lay the rubbing facedown and center the frame on top. Wrap the top edge of the fabric to the back of the stretcher and staple in the center. Repeat on the bottom edge of the fabric, then on each side, pulling the fabric taut and keeping the design centered. Continue stapling, working toward the corners and alternating sides to maintain even tension. At the comers, fold in and staple the fabric as shown below.

•5• Place the picture hanger in the center top of the frame and hammer it in. For a large rubbing, use two evenly spaced hangers.

Right up your alley

Of course, we wouldn’t suggest any family history gifts that are difficult to make (hey, we’ve been known to procrastinate on occasion, too). But a few of our ideas require just a hair more skill, time and expenditure than others. Our rating system will help you decide which projects are for you.


* Less than an hour

* 1 to 1V2 hours

*** 1 ½ to 2 hours

Skill level

* Easy even if you’re all thumbs (and they’re tied behind your back)

** A little hand-eye coordination will keep you from gluing your forearm to your face

*** If you still remember cutting, folding and pasting from kindergarten, you’re good

Cost per gift

* less than $8

** $8 to $12

*** $13 to $15


Make it your own

At the risk of sounding like Paula Abdul advising an “American Idol” wannabe, may we suggest the following quick projects, customized with your own unique flair?

• Create a pretty recipe card for Grandma’s famous toffee cookies and present it alongside a batch on a decorative plate.

• Personalize a photo or document storage box (available from craft stores or online suppliers such as Archival Methods) by affixing a photo to the lid with fancy photo corners.

• Turn a mini-album into a themed book. Suggested topics include family stories, special heirlooms, ancestral homes and relatives’ weddings.

• Transform a tote with an iron-on photo. Tuck a book or other stocking stuffer inside.

• Buy a historical map or download one free from the Perry-Castañeda library. Adhere it to a bulletin board and mark the places your ancestors lived with ball-head pins.

• Green thumbs can give seeds from the garden in a decorated envelope. Wrap with a flowerpot, spade, sowing instructions and a note about the plant’s significance.


Get crafty

Here’s where to buy supplies for your family history gifts:

• Archiver’s

(877) 867-7857 <>

• Create for Less

(866) 333-4463 <>

• Hobby Lobby

(800) 888-0321 <>

• Jo-Ann Stores

(800) 525-4951 <>

• Michaels

(800) 642-4235 <>
From the December 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.