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Genealogy Gifts : What Do I Need to Do?

There are two things you could be looking for if you want to give a "genealogy gift." You might need a gift for a genealogist. Check out the gift guides on our sister blog if that's what you're looking for or check out this post for suggestions of books for a U.S. genealogist.

If on the other hand, you want to create a family tree or family history as a gift for a family member (or even friend), we'll cover some basics you have to start with below.

Family Tree, Tree Chart, Family History?

The most common gift people want to give is a "family tree." The problem is, if you don't know exactly what you're trying to create, learning more online can be difficult because different people mean different gifts when they say "family tree."

The easiest gift idea is a family tree chart (also known as a pedigree chart, reverse family tree, ancestor or descendant chart, etc.). You can buy large format charts you can fill in by hand or use genealogy software to print a large format chart. You can also create your tree on standard size paper. This last option is the easiest because you can print a chart from your home computer instead of needing to use some type of printing service. However, a letter-size piece of paper, and even legal-size, will not hold much information. That might work to your advantage, though, so don't discount it!

Instead of a "chart," which is focused more on providing details (not just names and/or photos), you might want a more decorative family tree. If you have a style in mind, I recommend looking at Etsy for options as that is the most extensive source for decorative family trees. You'll find printouts you order and fill in yourself as well as artists that can create the tree from the information you provide. Obviously there's quite a difference in price between these but if you want to create a family heirloom, hiring an artist, especially one that understands archival concerns, can lead to a great gift.

If you're looking for other artistic options for a genealogical gift because you're crafty or artistic, check out this post on our sister blog. It contains DIY projects that require you at least have an interest in arts and crafts and preferably some skill.

Finally, of the basic gift ideas. You might not actually be thinking of a tree, you might want to give a family history. This is obviously far more involved since it requires the details of a chart plus sentences and then formatting and production.

Note that there are also options to print a "book" that is more a collection of charts and documents. Online research sites like offer this option (for, this is offered through This is quicker than creating an actual family history and can be pretty easy if you're starting with research on a site that links your online tree directly to the book/chart creator (such as with the Ancestry/MyCanvas partnership).

And that brings me to a much bigger consideration than what item you want to gift...

What Does It Take to Gift Genealogy?

Starting Your Genealogy Gift from Scratch

As a professional genealogist, every year I get a few inquiries from people wanting to give a family tree as a gift. I have never taken on one of these clients because they have always come to me way too late to achieve their goal.

To give a family history gift, you have to have family history information to start with. It is very expensive to get this from a professional and needs to be started as early as possible. How early depends on the genealogist, how much research you want done, and if they are providing the final gift or just the information you will use to create the gift.

Should you want something very simple and can find a genealogist that can start the next day, you'd want to allow a month, at the least. However, I think you'd be crazy to think that's a good idea. Genealogy research is very temperamental. No professional can fully control the research process as you don't know what you'll find until you find it. That means you should allow as much lead time for your gift project as possible in case something goes wrong and the project takes longer than anticipated. 

Honestly, hire a genealogist in January for a small gift you'll give in December. At least get started during the summer for a Christmas gift. This allows time for problems.

I'm positive you can find a genealogist that is willing to complete your gift project in less than six months (if it's a small project) but from experience I can tell you genealogy projects aren't usually a few days late, they are a month late (they might not be late at all but when they are, it's usually by weeks, not days).

The more lead time you give yourself, the more options you have for who to hire. It is not uncommon to wait weeks or months before your (skilled and in-demand) genealogist can start your project. If you're just starting your family history research, you won't need a specialist due to the difficulty of your project but your research might be in a location where there aren't enough professionals to cover the demand. If you want the professional to provide the final gift, this limits your choices as not every professional offers this.

Time is your friend when gifting genealogy.

DIY Gifts from Scratch

You must have information to start with. You don't have to hire a professional to obtain this. You can absolutely do the research yourself. But that still takes time.

It will take you, as a non-professional, longer to complete the research. However, you have better access to your family (to talk to them and gather information). You should still allow months to gather information to create your gift. One of the advantages of DIYing this is you can decide to alter your project if you realize you can't complete the research in time. This is much harder to deal with when you hire a professional (there are multiple reasons I won't go into).

T.V. commercials make it look like you can create your family tree in a day by following the suggestions provided. You can create a massive family tree in a matter of hours. But that tree will not be correct. Some of the hints are correct and some are not. I've written many blog posts over the years about why, but if you've never done genealogy, don't think you'll just hop online and have your family tree done this week. You can have A family tree done that fast, but there will be errors in it.

Decide what is important to you with this gift. Instead of doing "research," you can gather information from family members and compile it. That's actually how everyone should start their genealogy, not by getting online. You can also compile family photos into a gift, with or without "family tree" information.

If you really want to start researching your family tree and sharing it with your family, start with a modest project for the first gift and plan to expand the next year or at various gifting occasions. A good idea to think about is, how would you feel if the next holiday you had to give the same tree, but with your mistakes corrected. Some people don't have a problem with this but many don't want to admit to their family they got the family tree wrong (and in many families, you will have a family member that will challenge you about information, they might also be wrong but how important is it to you to feel confident your family tree is correct?).

But what about the other starting point...

Gift Ideas from the Family Historian

If you have genealogy research or information to start with, you have lots of options for gifts, based mainly on your available time and budget. I've already mentioned most or them above but if you skipped to this section, I'll list them here.

  • Large-format family tree chart, either filled out by hand or created from software and sent for printing.
  • Decorative family tree, perhaps without all the dates and places but more artistic than a "chart." Checkout Etsy for done-for-you or DIY options. You can also use a local artist if you know of one.
  • Genealogy "books" offered through online tree sites like This is not the traditional "family history" but glossy printed book with a mix of images and some text. This can include family photos and images of documents. You can also create your own version of this (I always find the layouts too limiting if I'm going to share document images but DIYing is a lot more work).
  • A traditional family history. A full family history takes years to compile, usually. But you can always gift it in parts if you want to eventually write a full family history. You can also hire a professional to write your family history, even if you've done the research. This is a service option when you search the Association of Professional Genealogists directory.
  • Other creative gifts such as suggested in this post.
  • A video instead of a printed option (years ago I did this with PowerPoint but there are many online options now that will allow you to upload images and add text, use what you know how to use). If you've done some heritage travel, you could incorporate videos from visiting a family location. Since you've got the research, you can also hire someone via a site like UpWork to create the video. No need to find a genealogist if it's just the tech side you want help with.

Genealogy Gifts for the Family

  • Books to get a child interested in genealogy, or an interested teenager (I actually started with this book when I was 9 but I was a self-starter).
  • My first paperback book, Essential Skills for the Occasional Genealogist just came out, it's perfect for your genealogy loving friend or relative.
  • Here are more recommendations for genealogy books and software for the genealogy buff.
  • If you're interested in a DNA test and plan to also do research, I recommend MyHeritage. Their DNA tools are amazing.
  • MyHeritage also has amazing photo tools if you are interested in repairing photos, colorizing photos, or creating some fun historically inspired photos. These can help engage your family if you're the dorky genealogist of the group.