13 DIY Family History Crafts and Projects

By Dana McCullough

We know you’ve got them—countless family history paper and digital files, piles of old family photos, a family heirloom you don’t know what to do with, tucked away in a box. With the holiday season coming up, we’ve turned to Pinterest to get inspiration for creative (and easy-to-make) genealogy gifts and décor that let you share family history treasures and records with other family members.

Use these 13 project ideas from Pinterest pinners and bloggers around the globe to inspire your own creativity. To replicate these crafters’ projects, follow the link with each project description for more photos and DIY details.

These two worksheets are designed to assist you create and organize old family photos for your projects.

1. Family Photo Wreath

“My husband and I believe in decorating our home with things we absolutely love and that hold deep meaning for our family,” Jenn Erickson says. Guests can see her love for family history right when they come in: Erickson’s DIY family tree wreath is right by the front door (and shown on the opening page of this article). To create it, she selected two photos for each surname and made miniature copies to fit small photo frames (available from craft stores such as Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts). The leaves are the surnames printed onto an old canvas drop cloth and cut out.

Using what’s on hand is fine for the wreath backing. “You don’t necessarily need a wreath form,” Erickson says. “You can use strong cardboard or a pool noodle cut to size and taped into a circle with duct tape.” Then cover the backing by wrapping it in ribbon, vintage-y fabric or burlap.

2. Handwritten Recipe Tea Towels

Emma Jeffery, who writes the Hello Beautiful blog, didn’t want her grandmother’s handwritten recipes to sit unappreciated in a drawer. Printing the recipes on tea towels created something practical and let her see her grandmother’s writing every day.

Jeffery first took photos of the recipes, then used online photo-editing software to “clean up” the images (see the cards before and after). An online service called Spoonflower did the printing. “I asked them to print onto a linen/cotton canvas, which is the perfect fabric for tea towels,” Jeffery says. She recommends ordering extras—once people see them, you’re bound to get requests.

3. Framed Vintage Jewelry

Susan Haskins loves to display family photos and heirlooms, so framing her grandmother’s vintage brooch was a project right up her alley. “I have such vivid childhood memories of her wearing that sparkly brooch on her favorite pink dress,” Haskins says.

She painted a small thrift store picture frame and covered the backing with a thin layer of batting and fabric. Then she pinned on the brooch and popped it into the frame. She suggests doing the same with whatever costume jewelry you’ve inherited. “For example, necklaces or bracelets can be displayed in a larger frame by securing the piece to the board using straight pins with pearl heads.”

4. Military Memorabilia Display

Lorine McGinne Schulze and her husband wanted to protect their family members’ WWI and WWII memorabilia, but also enjoy it and pass it on to their children. The result? A framed display she shares at Olive Tree Genealogy. Schulze arranged her father’s military mementos, including medals and a photograph, the way she wanted, and took them to a framing shop. She and her husband also arranged his father’s death card, war medals and a portrait into a similar framed display.

You can easily adapt this project to whatever mementos—clothing, badges, medals, certificates—you have. “There is no right or wrong way to do this,” Schulze says. She suggests asking the framing shop for coated glass to protect your memorabilia from sunlight.

5. Four Generations in One Photo

After seeing a four-generation photo online, Tash Sinclair from Australia got inspired to capture all four living generations of her family in the single photo. First, she took a digital photo of her daughter and edited it in Adobe Photoshop, changing the color to black-and-white and adding a border (you could perform similar edits using the free Picasa). She had her own picture taken holding the photo of her daughter, then photographed her mother holding that picture, and finally, her grandmother holding her mother’s photo.

Sinclair recommends taking the photos in a natural bright light—not direct sunlight—and using the same background in each picture. “My photos were taken across a few weeks in different locations, but I tried to use a white background in each,” she says. You can get a similar effect by taking a photo of each person holding a blank frame and using photo-editing software to add the “nested” portraits.

6.Vintage Watch Photo Jewelry

After finding vintage watches at a thrift store, Maize Hutton thought they’d make great jewelry to display a photo. She popped the back off each watch and removed the timepiece inside. “Sometimes you’ll need to also remove the winding stem. You can glue that back in later,” she says. Hutton used photo-editing software to shrink her photos—of herself as a child, her grandson and her nephew—and convert them to black and white. She printed them on photo paper, cut them to size, inserted each into a watch and reattached the back. If you don’t have an old watch to use, Hutton suggests looking on eBay or at a local thrift store.

7. Family Photos in Tins Christmas Ornaments

Angie Holden wanted to honor relatives who’d passed away by using their photos in Christmas ornaments. “I love looking at the ornaments and remembering those individuals each year,” she says. To make them, she converted digital photos to black and white and printed them to fit in small metal tart tins and candle trays.

“I laid out which images would work best with each tin, then trimmed the images to fit inside,” she says. Holden used Mod Podge craft adhesive to secure each images inside its tin, and added Mod Podge Dimensional Magic over the photo surface for polish and protection. Let each Mod Podge application dry for 24 hours. Finally, she strung ribbon on the ornaments and hung them on her Christmas tree.

8. Family Photo Coasters

After seeing examples of photo coasters online, I thought they’d be  a special wedding gift for my cousin Carolyn. I planned to use wedding photos from as many generations of the bride’s family as I could find. My aunt scanned the pictures for me, and I used Photoshop to change them to grayscale and adjust the contrast.

I printed the images on photo paper using my home printer and cut them into 4×4-inch squares, the size of the white ceramic tiles I bought (for 16 cents each!) from a home improvement store. I wrote the names of each couple on the bottom edge of a tile using a permanent marker, applied Mod Podge to adhere the photo, and sealed everything with a couple more Mod Podge layers. After plenty of drying time, I brushed on a clear protective coating and applied adhesive felt circles to the back of each tile.

9. Census Record Mug

Former Family Tree Magazine Editor Diane Haddad’s husband surprised her one year with a unique Christmas gift: a coffee mug featuring the 1860 census return for her third-great-grandparents, along with a computer mousepad with photos and genealogy records from her Haddad side.

“Greg sneaked into my digital genealogy files and uploaded several images to a photo-gift website,” Haddad says.

“He even checked the file name of the census record so he could make sure the right family was displayed on the mug.” Her husband used Shutterfly to create the gifts (other services, such as Snapfish and Target, have similar offerings). Want to save money on your present? Liking the Facebook page of the service you plan to use is a good way to receive discount coupon codes.

10. Ancestor Name Family Tree

Becca Berger’s family is big on genealogy, so when she saw a family tree composed of ancestors’ names on the crafter website Etsy, she wanted to DIY something similar for her grandmother.

Berger used Microsoft Publisher to arrange the names of ancestral couples and their marriage dates in the shape of a tree. Recent family members form the trunk, and generations farther back make up the branches. “It took some trial and error, but I was able to turn the text box in Publisher into an image, allowing me to manipulate the shape of each word,” she says. She explains the steps on her blog. If you don’t have Microsoft Publisher, you may be able to recreate her process using other programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Word. Berger printed her tree on burlap, but a linen-textured or decorative scrapbook paper also would look nice.

11. Old Letters Wall Art

Interior designer Emily Johnston Larkin’s client first brought her an idea for using old letters in her home’s décor. “Sarah had acquired a lot of handwritten, personal notes from her loved ones over time, and wanted a way to display them in her new home,” Larkin says.

The client selected letters her parents, sister, grandma and others wrote. A graphic designer friend scanned them, then used photo-editing software to convert them to sepia tones, enlarged them, and crop them to the client’s favorite part. (You could do these steps with a free photo editor such as Picasa.) Larkin matted them in inexpensive square frames from IKEA and hung them on the wall. You can see the effect on Larkin’s blog.

“Don’t be afraid to use a note that might not look perfect. These imperfections are what give the notes character,” Larkin says. “The grandmother’s note is written on a slant, unlike the other notes. Sarah smiles every time she sees it.”

12. Family Tree Chalkboard

Leigh Anne Wilkes created the family tree chalkboard as part of a blog challenge to create family photo displays. “I wanted to do something for the challenge with my old family heritage photos,” Wilkes says.

She decided to display four generations. First she spray-painted a frame from Goodwill, cut a board to fit inside the frame, and painted it with chalkboard paint. Wilkes ordered reprints of her favorite photos and matted them on white scrapbook paper. She secured them to the chalkboard with double-sided adhesive and used a chalk pen to add names and show family connections.

If you’d like to make a similar display, don’t worry if you don’t have photos for every ancestor. “I’m missing a few photos on my tree,” Wilkes says; she just included the names of those relatives.

13. Ancestor Coloring Book

Marilynn Stewart wanted to include younger generations in family history activities at an upcoming reunion. Her solution? A heritage-themed coloring book for the youngsters.

It featured her husband’s pioneer great-great-grandpa, William Stewart. Stewart got ideas from coloring books and free printable coloring pages such as those at, as well as immigration ship photos from TheShipsList.

She used the images and family history details to create a story for the illustrations. “The trick is to make your story match the pictures you have,” Stewart advises. “If you’re talking about how far Great-grandpa walked, find a picture of a pair of old boots.” Also be sure to include a map of where the person lived or emigrated from. You could use Microsoft Word or Publisher to arrange the words and images, and print copies. Staple them or have them spiral-bound at an office supply store. See Stewart’s coloring books at

Don’t Want to DIY?

If you don’t have the time (or, uh, skills) to create one of these homemade family history projects yourself, consider hiring a pro to turn your family heirloom or photos into something special.

  • Heirloom gifts: To make a quilt from baby clothes or print treasured family recipes onto ceramic dishes, crafters at Etsy can help. For example, Prairie Hills Pottery (phpottery on Etsy) can print a recipe card and photo of the cook onto pie plates or platters.
  • Calendars: Photo services such as Snapfish and Shutterfly can help you create calendars starring your photos.
  • Family history books: Create a yearbook of all your family photos from the past year, an ancestor remembrance book or a family recipe cookbook using an online photo book service such as Mixbook or
  • Personalized prints: UK company offers personalized timeline prints that graphically display up to 10 important dates in your family history. You also can get family history prints with photos in the shape of a surname. They ship only unframed versions internationally.
  • Photo gifts: Take old family photos or document images and create gifts with them. For example, lets you personalize t-shirts, mugs, buttons, stickers, hats, postcards and more. Other photo-sharing and gift sites have similar offerings.

A version of this article appeared in the December 2014 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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