Display Your Family Tree

Display Your Family Tree

Don't hide your heritage. Try these 19 simple, affordable ideas for creatively displaying your family tree.

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 19 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.

On the Wall
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. Go to a craft or stationery store to find some nice paper to print it on.
 
Not crazy about your software’s charting options? An add-on program could help. For example, Legacy Family Tree’s Charting Companion lets you create fan, hourglass and other charts up to 9 feet long. Personal Ancestral File and Ancestral Quest have similar add-ons—you can get them online from Progeny Software. The Family Tree Super Tools utility from Wholly Genes Software works with any genealogy program to make charts you can print at home or send to Wholly Genes for printing. On the slightly more costly side, companies such as Keepsake Family Trees will happily take your GEDCOMs and make a chart for you.
 
Software-generated charts tend to be more functional than fancy. Look for decorative wall charts, which you enhance with names, dates and sometimes photos, on Web sites as Fun Stuff for Genealogists and Kindred Trails’ Family History Store. If your handwriting rivals mine for its chicken-scratch quality, take the advice of Kindred Trails’ Karen Calisterio, who suggests printing names and dates in an attractive typeface on clear mailing labels. You also can get a Kin-Kit, which includes everything you need to make a photo-filled fabric family tree wall hanging.
 
Family Hang-ups
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.
 
Fabric of Your Life
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 for about $9 per pack of three sheets. 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.
 
Pins and Needles
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 (405-944-5056). Follow the Click to Enter Store link, then click Cross Stitch on the left.
 
Sewn Up
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. See contributing editor Nancy Hendrickson’s quilt on her Web site.
 
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 Web sites such as Cedar Creek Quilt Designs. Want someone to do your needlework for you? Send your ancestor chart to a company such as Family Tree Quilts, and they’ll send you a finished quilt for $400 to $700.
 
Table the Issue
Use your scanner to downsize family photos, then put them in frames suspended from a tabletop photo tree—Hallmark makes a nice one. Add mementos such as bronzed baby shoes, Aunt Sally’s silver candleholder or Grandma’s hankie to your tabletop display. 
 
All-Relatives Bulletin
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. (Didn’t we promise you a few no-brainers?)
 
Calendar Girls and Boys
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 using templates included with your word processing and desktop publishing software, or by downloading free templates.  Just drop in scanned pictures, type data in the month grids, print the pages on nice paper and have them spiral bound at a copy shop. You also could save your calendar to a CD and let the copy shop do the printing. 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.
 
Shadow Boxing
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. Pottery Barn offers streamlined $34 to $89 shadow boxes with hatpins and labels. Need a quick-and-easy option? Hallmark’s Family Tree Shadow Box already has a tree design on its background and comes with leaf pins—you just hang small family photos in the coordinating frames. If you scrapbook, use your papers to make a 12×12-inch tree page and mount it in a layout frame, available at craft stores. For ideas, see Family Tree Page Ideas for Scrapbookers (Memory Makers Books).
 
Fun and Games
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 for $10 to $15 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. You can get a typical 11×14-inch puzzle for about $25.
 
Holiday Gathering
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.
 
Wanna Start Something?
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.
 
Toolkit
Chart-Printing Services
Ancestry Printing (630) 653-8400
FamPres +49 (91) 35 7 21 72 04
Generation Maps (801) 836-6748
Keepsake Family Trees (888) 759-4228
The Tree Maker (270) 881-9080
 
Craft-Supply Stores
Archivers (877) 867-7857
Create for Less (866) 333-4463
Hobby Lobby (800) 888-0321
Jo-Ann Stores (800) 525-4951
Michaels (800) 642-4235
 
Project Ideas & How-To
Books
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)
Traditional Samples, by Brenda Keyes and A.L. David (David & Charles)
 
From the December 2005 of Family Tree Magazine.
 

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