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A Family History Christmas Tree

Decorating the Christmas tree is a wonderful tradition for the family. I love how a tree reflects your own personality.

Why not feature your ancestors on an ornament? This ornament, made using Shutterfly, has a collage of my father and his parents.

Why not feature your ancestors on an ornament? This ornament, made using Shutterfly, has a collage of my father and his parents.

Create a Heritage Tree to Celebrate Your Family Background

You don't have to be a genealogist to decorate your Christmas tree with a family history theme. Anyone who takes an interest in their ancestors can use this theme to create a unique and beautiful tree for the holidays.

If you have a stash of vintage photos and want to feature those, I'll show you ways to safely do that. No photos will be harmed in the decorating of your heritage Christmas tree. There are craft ideas for your ancestor photos, and if your DNA does not include craft skills, I've provided a link for ordering ornaments made with your family images.

The reverse side of the ancestry ornament shown above

The reverse side of the ancestry ornament shown above

Use Zazzle or Shutterfly to Create Heritage Ornaments

I do not recommend putting any of your actual vintage photos on the tree, as this would expose them to damage from light, water, or pets. If you don't want to risk your treasured photos being damaged, don't put them on the tree.

Scanning

Instead, scan those photos into your computer or use a phone app like CamScanner to copy the pictures. Then you can print the photos and create handmade ornaments from the copies if you're the crafty type. If not, follow the instructions below to have custom heritage ornaments created for you online.

How to Create a Custom Ornament Online

  1. Take a look at the online sites that make ornaments from your digitized photos. I've used Zazzle and Shutterfly, and both were quite satisfactory. Walmart also offers photo ornaments online, but I have not tried their service.
  2. Create a free account.
  3. Choose the style of ornament you like. There are ovals, round ones, square ones, ones with frames, collage arrangements, and more.
  4. Upload the vintage photo that you've scanned into your computer or phone.
  5. Complete the order and have it sent to you.
here's an example of a round ornament I ordered from Zazzle and customized with one of my vintage photos.

here's an example of a round ornament I ordered from Zazzle and customized with one of my vintage photos.

Family Ornaments From the Good Old Days

My mother made some ornaments with family photos on them back in the 1960s. She used the flat lid from a canning jar for the base. She cut out the photo then glued it to the lid. Then she glued on a ribbon to form a loop for hanging the picture.

Here Mom used a school photo of my older brother glued to a canning jar lid.

Here Mom used a school photo of my older brother glued to a canning jar lid.

More Ideas for Including Your Ancestors' Photos on the Tree

I had some plastic coasters that I'm gluing copies of ancestor photos onto. On the back of the item, I'll put the name of that person.

Another way to put significant people from your genealogy onto the tree is to print out copies and glue them onto card stock to stiffen them. Then cut around the silhouette and tie them on the tree with ribbon or perch them in the branches. This works well if you enlarge the photo too.

Making a Photo Ornament With Modpodge

Find Ornaments That Symbolize Your Family's Roots

As you progress further and further back on your family tree, you run out of photos of your ancestors. Prior to the Civil War, few people had photos taken. Still, you can feature the family name on an ornament. Also, you can honor specific ancestors with ornaments that represent their work, their locale, or other things relating to their lives.

Examples

  • Perhaps your great-grandfather was a rancher in Texas in the 1800s. This brings to mind a variety of ornaments to use. How about a Texas flag, a cowboy, or a small rustic sign with the name of his ranch on it?
  • A number of my family lines (Martin, Kennedy, Joy, Richards) were early pioneers in Kansas. I could honor them with an ornament of a prairie schooner.
  • Both sides of the family tree came together in Kansas, and I'm part of the fifth generation in that state. My sister has a great-grandchild, so now there are three more generations of Kansans. I chose a brass ornament showing the Kansas seal from the state flag to represent this long line.
Use ribbon swags to separate the tree into sections. Swags of tulle or wide ribbons can divide your ancestors into family groupings on your tree.

Use ribbon swags to separate the tree into sections. Swags of tulle or wide ribbons can divide your ancestors into family groupings on your tree.

Why There's a Fiddle on Our Heritage Tree

My husband's 3rd great-grandfather, Michele Allain, played the fiddle, and we saw the actual fiddle in a museum in New Brunswick, Canada. I then found a wooden fiddle small enough to hang on the tree. It was handmade and more expensive than my usual ornaments, but it was perfect for representing his family's musical traditions.

Note the Significance of the Various Heritage Ornaments

Keep a small notebook where you list the special ornaments you've added and explain in it how each relates to your family history. The family can browse through it looking up the history relating to each item on the tree. Later, when the ornaments are passed along to the next generation, this record clues them into the significance of each heritage ornament.

Examples

  • Fiddle ornament: 3X great-grandfather, Michel Allain of Neguac, New Brunswick played the fiddle. He lived from 1753 to 1827. His wife was Marie Savoie.
  • Red, white, and blue ornament: The Acadian flag has these three colors and a single gold star. The Allains and all of their wives were of Acadian descent.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Where can I find a Christmas ornament with our great-grandparents' surname on it?

Answer: I'd recommend using a site like Zazzle where you can design your own Christmas ornaments. Select an ornament style from their offerings and a font (maybe an old-style handwriting) from the ones they have. There are probably other sites, but this is the one I've used successfully in the past.

© 2020 Virginia Allain

I'd Like to Hear From You

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2020:

I love your ideas on how to decorate a Christmas tree with vintage family photos. This could provide a fun family project for people who are currently practicing social distancing, and yet, looking for things to do. Keeping a record of the ornaments is also great for future generations. Thanks for the ideas!

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