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Genealogy Gifts: What will engage my family?

Great Genealogy Gift Ideas for the Family

(engaging non-genealogists)

If you're the family genealogist, any genealogy gift probably seems exciting. But your non-genealogist family might not feel that way.

The best gift will engage them by, first, not being dry and boring.

A very detailed family tree chart might not be the best option if your family usually tunes you out when you start talking family history. If your family loves seeing your results (even if they don't want to help gather them) a detailed chart can be a good option, especially if you're dealing with academics or engineers that revel in detail.

But what about the average non-genealogist?

Here are some tips to engage the average non-genealogist:

  • Consider a family tree or book that includes photos (see the suggestions below) or better yet, create a video.
  • Highlight events or people they already know about including interactions with famous people or events.
    Don't overlook "famous" relatives. This can be any relative that wasn't your average joe, such as the mayor of a small town or even a female relative that had a career when average women were limited to being a wife and mother.  If you don't have any of these (I don't), don't worry, use the next two suggestions instead.
  • Focus on relating what you've found to them (does little Suzy look exactly like great-great-aunt Marge? Show the photos side-by-side. Did great-grandpa have the same hobby as your nephew Tim? Point that out!). In addition or alternatively...
  • Relate what you've found to their interests or something they've done recently.
    When my kids learn about a new topic in history class, I tell them about any family that was involved in that event. That's just a day-to-day thing in our house. You can take it much farther if you're using photos and videos.
    If your family went on a vacation or other travel and you can tie your results to that location, highlight it. Did you go blueberry picking last summer and found it exhausting? Highlight your agrarian ancestors that did that type of work everyday and didn't have air conditioning to return to.
  • Use a variety of visuals, see the suggestions below.

Ideas for Visuals for Your Family History Gift

  • Old and new family photos. Remember, comparing the past to the present is a way to engage non-genealogists.
  • Colorized photos. I've been a genealogist since I was nine. I am still drawn to family photos colorized using MyHeritage's tool. I'm amazed how much more "real" the family seems.
  • If you really want to engage your family with old family photos, try the Deep Nostalgia™ tool from MyHeritage. It creates a few seconds animation of a face in a photo.
  • Old and new photos of locations. Look for collections of historic photos that illustrate your family history. These don't have to be of your family, they just need to illustrate what the location looked like. You can also look for historically appropriate images for an event, even if the location is different. Consider a variety of options such as "here's a picture of the stores on Main Street when our family lived there" or "here's a picture of what a school looked like in our state in 1920." Different people will be engaged by different things.
  • Newspaper clippings, yearbooks, city directories, or local histories. Video is a great way to "show" these are printed items and also show the clipping so the details of the text or picture can be read/seen. Don't overlook ads for the family business in newspapers or city directories
  • Maps, historical and modern--like Google maps--to provide context between locations. Using Google maps or better, yet, Google Earth, you can also "see" an area via the satellite images. You can create a video from your computer screen to share this virtual walk-through. I often use historic map images with Google Earth. You can overlay historic images in Google Earth but it takes some time. If you're interested in that, it's worth it. Otherwise, you can simply put a modern map image side-by-side with an historic map image of the same area (zoom and crop to make this more engaging than a map of 100s of miles).
  • Photos of family artifacts or historical items. These can be items your family owns or generic photos to show what an historic item looks like.
  • Illustrations of historic events or items. Obviously you're not getting photographs before certain dates and photos might be hard to find; don't overlook paintings or illustrations. For items you want to show, historic dictionaries or catalogs (like the Sears Roebuck catalog) can be found online. I had a relative that got in a fight and hit a man with a "hame." I had no idea what this looked like but found it in an old Search Roebuck catalog online. You might know a family member ordered a house kit from Sears Roebuck, look for images online. Our modern minds find it crazy you'd use a paper catalog and order a house. A photo of the house is great but seeing the ad is unusual.

The "How-to"

Obviously exactly how-to create your gift depends on what it is. If you need help with the gift creating, not the genealogy aspects, especially technical help, consider a site like UpWork where you can hire someone for a small project. If you have all the material to create the gift, but aren't sure how to create a video or edit your images, a site like UpWork is a great place to look to hire tech help.

If instead you need artistic (non-technology) help, consider Etsy. For a more local option, look for art or craft co-ops or interest groups in your area. If you visit local art or craft fairs, or even shops that offer handmade items from multiple vendors, look for artisans that create something similar to what you want your gift to be. Even if that vendor doesn't take commissions, they may know how you can find someone with the skills you need.