Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Genealogical Christmas Present

Through the magic of social networking, like this blog, I discovered several “new” cousins in 2011.  Not only that, but all of them are interested in genealogy. Since I uncovered so much in my research,  I wanted to find a way to share it in an interesting way with all these new, interested, people.  So, I came upon an idea for a Christmas project.  Unfortunately, the lightning bolt struck me about two weeks prior to Christmas and I had to hustle to get it all done.  I barely made it in under the wire, sending out my little gift packets on Christmas Eve (I got a receipt from the Post Office to prove it!). While most of the gifts made it to their destinations, some are still in transit to those family members who live in inconvenient countries. 

Since I think it turned out rather well, I thought I’d share what I did for other genealogists as an idea of how to make all that family stuff interesting. So, if you are a cousin awaiting the mail, you might want to skip this post for now so you can be surprised, or you can read on and see what’s coming in the mail.

12 Month Calendar_Page_01 (Medium)

It turns out that I have an assortment of cousins from several branches of my St Croix family.  I wanted to give them a gift that would have something for everyone, regardless of which branch they were from.  The idea struck me that rather than doing something customized for each cousin’s branch, I’d make a calendar showcasing 12 family groups taken from my database.  These families would be the ancestors of each of my cousins and connections where the branches came together.

I decided to model the cover after this blog (even down to the web address on the cover and the font used).  The cover is a collection of photos from my “treasure box” that showed snippets of the island, my family, and even a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt (no relation)!  I arranged them to look like what you’d expect from a treasure box: a disordered collection of shots.

Each month of the calendar shows the information I have of all the family members, parents and children, their birth and death dates, and who they married (or kind of married, given my previous findings about marriage).   For each month, along with the family data, I included extracts from original documents and photos if I have them.  Of course, only the most recent families have photos, and my research barely gets in to the 20th century. For Example, January is my grandfather’s family.  I’ve got hundreds of pictures of him, but I chose to focus on his parents and siblings, so there are fewer.

12 Month Calendar_Page_02 (Medium)

Other families were older, such as Mr. and Mrs. April, my 4th great grandparents, Johannes van Beverhoudt and Amey McNobney.  Since they lived prior to photography, pictures are kind of scarce.  I focused on the extant documents, such as the 1796 baptismal record of their daughter Dorothea Juliana.  Also, this family had a rather impressive number of children.

12 Month Calendar_Page_08 (Medium)

Then there were the families that were close enough that they sent regular pictures to the islands, such as the Simonsen family in New Jersey, who sent pictures every few years. Mary Simonsen was my great grandfather’s sister.

12 Month Calendar_Page_24 (Medium)

While the pictures are nice when I have them, the documents show the types of research artifacts I have found and may even give my cousins some genealogical information they don’t already have.  Especially for the documents they may not have known existed, such as tax rolls and church registers, that aren’t digitized online.

Since this was to be an actual 2012 calendar, I needed to add the days.  I did this fairly simply using my database software.  I maintain my database in Family Tree Maker 2012 and it has the capability to create calendars with birthdays and anniversaries labeled.  It has an option to only include living people, presumably so that you know when to send a card.  Being a man, I’m not likely to send cards (just ask my wife) so I unchecked that option.  I got a calendar that labeled all the known birthdays of everyone in my database.

12 Month Calendar_Page_17 (Medium)

It also shows how old they will be in 2012.  On August 2, my grandfather Ludvig will be 118.  I’ll have to remember to send him a card.

What I really liked about this approach is that none of my cousins will recognize even half the names in the calendar, but they are all documented relatives, albeit distant at times.  My hope is that it will generate as much curiosity as it will provide information.

As a side benefit, I can troll for information.  One of my cousins noticed that I had not shown her mother’s birthday.  Well, that’s because I didn’t know what it was.  She dutifully provided that information and I updated my database.  Win-win!  Maybe I’ll do an update for 2013.

After I assembled the calendar I thought that while everyone would recognize their branch, they would have no idea how all the others fit.  Rather than just leave that as a teaser, I constructed a simplified family tree tying all the families together.

12 Month Calendar_Page_28 (Medium)

And to polish it off professionally, I added both a copyright notice and a general disclaimer on the back. The disclaimer points out that a calendar is not a genealogical source and to contact me for actual sources. I printed it myself (with the gracious help of one of my co-workers who actually did the production) and shipped it out just before Christmas.  I think it came out very professional, if I do say so myself.  So far the reception has been wonderful.

This project was certainly more work than I thought it would be, I could only do about 3 pages a day, what with selecting source documents, finding photos, preparing and enhancing them, assembling them in Adobe Illustrator, and organizing the pages.

Once I know that everyone has their copy, I plan to send one to the Caribbean Genealogical Library on St Thomas and another to the St Croix Landmarks Society at Whim.  While they are of limited genealogical value, they may be of interest to other genealogists who might want to do something similar with their own research.

So, for you cousins, I hope you enjoy this all year and I hope I have helped whet your appetite for knowing about all those other relatives from St Croix.  For all my other readers, I hope you found this project interesting and maybe it’ll give you an idea of something you can do that your family that even the least genealogically minded may find non-boring.


  1. This was such a wonderful Christmas gift! My children and grandchildren are excited about it too. My brother and his son, who both happen to be dead ringers for Ludvig Conrad, found it a little eerie at first, but now are excited about finding ancestors. Thank You Again!

  2. This is a very nice idea!
    I have already started to make my own Calender for 2013..!
    Thank you for informing us of this idea.
    // Yvonne

  3. Love this idea.... my daughter-in-law has given me a photo calendar every year of the grandkids for the past 3 years. I plan on saving them, they will be a great treasure to look at some day..... but this idea would really appeal to the genealogist. Would make a great family reunion fundraiser, too. I know I would be thrilled to have been one of your cousins and receive one of them. I can only imagine how much work you went to.

  4. How marvelous it looks and the cousins must have been delighted.

  5. Been planning to do a similar project and thank you for your ideas.