My husband and I, in light of the ridiculous economy and the deficit of funds associated with our chosen professions (he, an artist and me, a graduate student) decided to make several genealogy-themed presents for Christmas this year.
Granted, on the surface, genealogy gifts may seem rather specialized and unlikely to generate much excitement but I have yet to encounter anyone who has no interest in their past. Even people who claim to have ‘hated’ studying history in school love reading about the generations of relatives who came before them, and some may even become fascinated by the ‘moments of history’ their ancestors experienced. My father is a case in point here–once a man who had little or no interest in any history whatsoever, now he probably knows more about the Famine in Ireland than I do, though I studied it when I lived there myself. Why his sudden change of heart? The discovery that part of our family immigrated to the States from Ireland as a direct result of the Famine.
Our approach to the gift-project was simple: I went on Ancestry.com, and dug up a variety of digitized, printable sources on a handful of relevant family lines (immigration records, census records, military records). Then my husband the artist, a whiz with Photoshop, altered the images to make them more readable; he cropped some sections, enlarged some sections, highlighted some sections, and made lovely titles for each page of images. Finally, he arranged the pages in an artist’s presentation folio book. Voila! Professional-looking and easy to read for those who aren’t familiar with reading the older handwriting ubiquitous in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century documents.
Our aim was to make our presentation books accurate but not comprehensive–in the spirit of the old adage “always leave ’em wanting more.” We hoped the books would encourage our families to dialogue about family history, and that’s exactly what has happened. Suddenly, everyone is excited to further their knowledge of their own genealogy and to share what information they already know. For any genealogist who has had difficulty interviewing living family members about family history, homemade document books like these could be just the thing to interest relatives in genealogy and encourage them to provide their own precious input to ‘further the cause,’ as it were. It might be worth giving it a shot.
Happy Holidays, all!