How to make a family tree

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06 April 2017
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Draw up your family tree for free, online or on paper, with our guide for family history researchers who'd like to keep a record of their ancestors.

Draw up your family tree for free, online or on paper, with our guide for family history researchers who'd like to keep a record of their ancestors.

A family tree is a visual way of showing how one generation of your family connects to the next, as well as displaying the relationships within each generation. Although these charts can look complicated, it’s simple to draw up your own family tree, as we show you here.

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Creating a family tree is a great way to see your history at a glance and you can use it both as a working document and eventually as an heirloom.

Preparing to make your family tree

Before you plot your tree, take a look at a variety of templates to give you an idea of what format might work for you. Good examples can also be viewed at Family Tree Templates and Obituaries Help.  Alternatively, you might prefer to work from a pre-printed chart, available from genealogy suppliers.

Next, decide how you’ll display the information. Abbreviations make things simpler – ‘b’ for date of birth, ‘m’ for marriage and ‘d’ for death. The ‘=’ sign indicates a marriage. If an ancestor has more than one marriage, these can be listed as 1, 2, etc., with the relevant children shown for each union.

Vertical lines on the tree indicate the relationships between the generations, whilst horizontal lines are used to display the children of a marriage, with siblings listed in age order.

How to draw up your family tree

Once you’re ready to begin drawing your family tree, write in pencil, making each entry permanent once you’re confident that the names and dates are correct.

Plot the youngest generation of the family at the bottom of the page, allocating a box to each person, with the oldest child on the left and subsequent siblings listed to the right of the previous name. Each box should have the name of the person, with their surname written in capitals, along with their dates of birth, marriage and death.

Next, create vertical lines to connect each sibling to the two parents (with the father shown to the left of the mother) and write the parents’ crucial dates as in generation one. The names of the female members of your tree should be entered with their maiden name if applicable.

After this, you can continue into your family’s past, plotting new ancestors as you discover them and wondering what those tantalising gaps in your family tree might reveal as you take your research further.

Draw up your family tree - top tips

  • Consider creating both a ‘working’ family tree and an heirloom version
  • Use the best quality paper and writing materials you can afford for your heirloom tree
  • Allow room on the chart for generations yet to be discovered!