How many times have you attended a family gathering, and as the resident genealogist, proudly showed a relative the 10-generation ancestral chart you’ve spent years of your life filling in only to have him give it a cursory glance, say, “How nice,” and then walk away? If this scenario sounds familiar, don’t despair: With today’s technology and your own creativity, you have endless ways to spark your relatives’ interest and share the family history information and photos you’ve gathered. Start with our list of eight family tree projects that’ll be as fun for family to look at as they are for you to put together.
1. Turn blog posts into books.
Blogging is a popular and free way to share your family history. It can ensure that the details of your ancestors’ lives get fleshed out beyond the names, dates, places and source citations you’ve collected – and get remembered. A blog also can serve as “cousin bait” to attract the attention of long-lost relatives researching the same ancestors you are. If you already have a blog (or if you want to start one), you can write and post family history information throughout the year, and then compile the posts into a printed book at least once a year.
Setting up a blog is fast and free using tools such as Blogger
. It may be easiest to focus your blog posts on one ancestor at a time. You can create character sketches, profiles or timelines for each ancestor, highlighting his or her personality, life struggles or accomplishments. If you’re not sure how to get started or you suffer from writer’s block, you’ll find blog post writing prompts in the 52 Ancestors Challenge
or in my Fearless Females Blogging Prompts
. For more tips on how to get started and for daily blogging prompts, visit Geneabloggers
. At the end of the year, use a website such as blog2print.com
to turn your blog into a keepsake printed book. Get additional tips for turning your blog into a book at WritersDigest.com
2. Make a movie.
“Show, don’t tell” is a mantra commonly taught in writing classes, where students learn to enrich their prose with descriptive details. But sometimes words just aren’t good enough. Photos and video may tell the family story best. If you have family movies or old videos, you can use technology to transfer them to your computer (see our guide to digitizing old home movies). While plenty of software programs help you create and edit video, many are pricey. Your most cost-effective and easiest option may be the built-in software that comes with your computer. For instance, most Windows-based computers already include Windows Movie Maker. If you don’t have it, download it free from Microsoft Windows.Microsoft.com or Explore.Live.com. Mac users can create beautiful HD family history movies with iMovie ($14.99) Apple.com.
Even if you have only family photographs and no video, you can use the software to create a movie by adding music and special effects to photos. Each program works a bit differently, but in most cases you’ll choose your images or video footage, create a storyboard in the software and then add in special effects (such as panning across an image, aka the Ken Burns Effect), audio and transitions. When you’re done creating your video, post it on YouTube
or share it with relatives on your favorite social media site. Also consider burning it on a DVD to preserve a copy or to give out to relatives at a family event.
3. Cook up some culinary history.
Many researchers focus so much on the data-gathering portion of genealogy that they forget to record things such as ethnic customs and traditions or Grandma’s best bread pudding recipe. A family cookbook is something you can share across the generations, knowing that delicious food has broad appeal. A cookbook is easier to put together than you may think with self-publishing services such as Lulu or Amazon.com’s CreateSpace. I published my book Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes & Traditions on Lulu, using its templates for both print-on-demand and eBook versions. You’ll also find recipe book templates pinned on Pinterest. If using a template and a service sounds too complicated, just put your recipes and any photos in a word processing document you can print at home.
In addition to collecting the recipes you have, ask relatives to contribute those they remember. Also try to gather the cooks’ photos, as well as stories about them and the family events where their dishes were served. If your family doesn’t have many handed-down foods, look for recipes from your ancestral homelands and community cookbooks from places where your ancestors lived. For more instructions on sharing family recipes in a cookbook, see the January 2011 Family Tree Magazine
4. Get interactive.
Perhaps your relatives would be more interested in the family history if they could easily contribute their own memories and information to the tree or narrative. Apps and tools for collaboration and storytelling are abundant. For example, EveryStory is a simple, free storytelling app (Android, iOS) that makes it easy for people to record, save and share their stories in a private sharing environment. The free Saving Memories Forever smartphone app (Android, iOS) provides family interview question prompts and allows you to easily record and share relatives’ memories in audio format.
You also can use programs such as HistoryLines
to import GEDCOM files and add historical events, stories and photographs, and then share the files with family members. See our tutorial on using Treelines
(available to Plus members). If your relatives don’t seem technologically inclined, ask for memories by email or in person (then take detailed notes). A family history chart or book that includes their contributions is more likely to capture their interest.
5. Create a family history coloring book.
Coloring books are no longer just for kids. In July 2015, The New Yorker magazine ran an article on the phenomenon of adults turning to coloring books as a popular creative outlet and stress reliever. Many bookstores now sell coloring books and fancy colored pencils for adults. You can capitalize on this trend by making your own book that combines your genealogy and coloring.
A family history coloring book can be a fun activity for a reunion or holiday celebration and a way to learn about your ancestors or ethnic heritage. All you’ll need is a photo-editing program, your favorite family photos in a digitized format, a printer and some paper. Simply convert your images to black-and-white and use the photo-editing software’s Sketch filter (or similar tool) to create coloring book pages. See an easy step-by-step guide to creating an ancestor coloring page here
6. Capture and share current family moments.
Genealogists spend most of their time chasing dead ancestors, but family history is happening all the time and the moments of today will become tomorrow’s past. In the age of YouTube and selfie sticks, everyday activities are being recorded and shared like never before. New apps are always rolling out to help us share life’s moments as they occur.
One of these new apps, Periscope
, lets you view the world in real time through someone else’s eyes. It could be a useful way to include far-flung family members who can’t make it to weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries or holiday gatherings, or broadcast your experiences when visiting an ancestral homeland. The Periscope app is available free from Apple iTunes
and Google Play
. Sign in with Twitter
or with your mobile phone number. You can then follow others and watch a user’s periscopes live or within 24 hours of whenever they come out.
If a live broadcast Periscope-style isn’t your thing, you can use Google Hangouts
video conferencing features to share a more structured event long-distance. Try a family game night with family history trivia. You can see how a game night works by participating in the Genealogy Game Night hosted by DearMyrtle
and her “Cousin Russ” Worthington. Watch archived game nights on YouTube.
7. Decorate with family history.
Put your family history front-and-center in your home to spark conversation when family members visit. Hang photos throughout your home to tell your ancestors’ story, or pay tribute to them with a wall of photos. I’ve used the Wallverbs family tree photo frame display from Bed, Bath & Beyond to create various ancestor collages in different rooms of my house. You also could have old family photos (or a combination of photos and document images) printed on canvas or metal to create wall displays. Photo-printing sites such as Snapfish, Shutterfly, Mixbook, Mpix and CanvasPop offer several wall-art options for printing individual photos or photo collages.
A family wall calendar is a great way to display your family history. For example, you could create a themed calendar for an ancestor or family line, such as a “Year in the Life of Mary Catherine Schmidt.” Photo-printing sites sites, office supply stores, drugstores and discount stores (like Walmart or Costco) and FedEx Office stores
offer calendar design templates and printing options. Simply choose and edit your photos, upload them to the site and drop them into a template. If you place an order for multiple copies, you often can get a discount and give them as gifts to your relatives.
A personal way to keep memories close at hand is to create a keepsake throw pillow
using a beloved relative’s shirt or sweater. You can get most of the supplies you’ll need at a local sewing store. If sewing isn’t your thing, several photo-printing sites offer options for printing photos onto pillows or blankets.
8. Create a family history cover photo.
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter recommend using cover or header photos in addition to a profile picture. This is another opportunity to honor or showcase your ancestors. If you’re skilled with photo editing, you can create your own images for Twitter and for Facebook.
But apps and online tools also can do the work for you. PicMonkey
, for example, help you create Facebook cover photos. Fuzel Collage
(iPhone, Android) lets you turn ordinary photos into interesting images to share on social media. There’s a free version, but the paid version gives you more options.
With all these options, there are no more excuses for sharing “boring” family history information. Even your most skeptical relatives won’t be able to resist a peek into the past when it’s displayed or shared in one of these creative ways.
- 101 Tips for a Fabulous Family Reunion e-Book by Family Tree Magazine (Family Tree Books)
- From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes by Gena Philibert-Ortega (Family Tree Books)
- How to Archive Family Keepsakes by Denise May Levenick (Family Tree Books)
- How to Archive Family Photos by Denise May Levenick (Family Tree Books)
Photo-printing sites such as Snapfish
let you print old photos on home decor items such as throws, pillow covers, wall canvases and more.
Free Web Content
16 ways to leave a legacy
Family story short takes
Family history storytelling sites
For Plus Members
Digitizing old home movies
Make a family movie in 11 steps
Tutorial: Tell your family story with Treelines
Family Tree Shop
Family Tree Chart: Watercolor Design download
10 Genealogy Tech Tools You Can’t Live Without on-demand webinar
From the May/June 2016 Family Tree Magazine