How to create a family tree chart
Find out which family tree chart is best for you, whatever stage you’re at with your family history research, with Family Tree editor Helen Tovey’s expert guide.
Read on to discover the different uses for a family tree chart – and some ideas for starting your own chart project.
Family tree charts can be ‘works in progress’ that we use to gradually gather and grow the branches of our family history, or completed ‘works of art’ to proudly display on the wall. They can be handwritten, printed or displayed digitally.
The best family tree chart downloads
If you search the web for ‘Free family tree chart download’ you’re sure to find plenty of freely available options to choose from. These useful resources can be saved to your computer, with you printing as many copies as you wish for your own personal use – easy to punch a hole in, and pop in your ring binder. For useful examples see:
Create a bespoke family tree chart
You may have your family history research stored in a family history programme or online tree and wish to print a large copy for display. There are several bespoke chart printing services on offer. Some will work from paper notes, others will accept a GEDCOM file.
To celebrate a milestone anniversary in the family, you could splash out on a bespoke calligraphy family tree chart, such as those created by Janet Smith (creator of the Danny Dyer family tree on Who Do You Think You Are? a few years ago)
Maybe, however, you like to keep it hi-tech and online, making use of the family tree building tools on subscription sites (such as Ancestry, Findmypast, MyHeritage and TheGenealogist, and on free family history site, FamilySearch) and in family history software (eg RootsMagic, LegacyFamilyTree, TreeView, Family Historian, FamilyTreeMaker, and Reunion (Mac)).
Whether you’re using desktop family history software or creating your tree in the cloud, a digital family tree has many advantages: easy to update, flexible format (allowing you to add all relations, siblings etc, not just direct line ancestors), allowing you to add photos and sources too.
How to create your own family tree
Perhaps, you’d like to create your own family tree chart. This old-school way of doing things still has enormous appeal and many very definite plus points (you don’t need any high-tech equipment, and can make it as large or small, complicated or simple, as you choose).
To make your own family tree chart:
- Get a large sheet of paper, a pencil, sticky notes, and finally a pen.
- If you are just including direct ancestors, you can draw up an orderly chart with space for 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents and so forth. Just remember to keep each generation on the same ‘latitude’ so that you can keep track of who’s who.
- If you’re going to create a descendant chart (really fun for family gatherings) or if you’re going to include all relatives (descendants or ancestors), then you are going to have to allow for a more complicated layout (as the numbers of siblings, spouses etc, per person will vary). This is where the sticky notes come in. Write each person’s name on a sticky note, and place it on your large sheet of paper. As you add further people and realise that you need more space, you can simply shuffle your stickies along, until you have the perfect layout.
- I would recommend always drawing up your family tree in pencil first (it’s amazingly easy to write a name or date in the wrong place). Then, once you’ve checked it’s all correct, go over in pen.
Who not incorporate some family traditions?
A family tree chart inevitably needs to include quite a bit of information in a tight space. To help make your chart intelligible to others here are a few conventions.
- As mentioned, be sure to write the names of people in the same generation as each other on the same ‘latitude’ as each other.
- To save space, use abbreviations such as: b for born, bp or bap for baptised, m or = for married, b or bur for buried.
- If an ancestor marries more than once put a small number 1 or 2 next to each spouse.
- It is traditional to place the male of each couple to the left, and the female to the right.
- Many people put surnames in UPPER CASE to help them stand out.
- It can be interesting to include as many brief details as you can fit. For example, in addition to names and key dates, include places of birth, marriage and death, and occupations too. These can help you spot things that run in the family.
I hope you have fun with your family tree charts – they’re a brilliant way to display your hard work, help you spot gaps for branches that you need to research next, and are great for piquing the interest of fellow family members when combined with some gripping family anecdotes!
QUICK LINK: Five essentials to start your family tree