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Celebrating family is a cornerstone of the holiday season. It's not a bad gift theme, either, for those tough-to-buy-for relatives.

In a recent Simon Property Group survey of favorite people to buy for, moms got just 9 percent of the vote. That ranked them a distant fourth behind kids (40 percent), spouses (24 percent) and extended family/friends (13 percent). Dad came in dead last with 2 percent of the vote—less than even the 3 percent who picked "someone else." Ouch.

Gifts that celebrate or explore family history are "a step beyond" the typical personalized gifts involving family photos or monograms, said Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor for RetailMeNot.com.

"You can surprise them, delight them and give them a door into part of their past they may not know about," she said. Some are big-ticket enough that adult siblings can pitch in for a joint gifting.

Of course, a professional family tree or ancestral DNA analysis take months, and require participation on the part of the recipient. Your gift is the commission, not the final product. With that in mind, think about a clever teaser for that IOU, said Bodge. "I would print up a family photo and make a card, or get one of the kids to draw a family tree," she said. "Put a 'more to come' message inside."

—By Kelli B. Grant, CNBC.com
Posted 13 Dec. 2014

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