Meet the 'Danny Dyer' family tree chart creator

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01 December 2016
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At-my-board-42043.JPG Janet Smith at work
Janet Smith created the family tree for Danny Dyer's episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are'

Janet Smith has been a calligrapher for over 20 years, and discovered her love of creating family trees about 10 years ago when she was commissioned by a couple for a matched pair of trees tracing their two family names.

More recently, however, Janet created a family tree for Danny Dyer's episode of BBC TV's Who Do You Think You Are?

Janet was thrilled to see Danny so moved by the news the tree was bringing to him - that he is a direct descendant of Edward III.

We think a 'Danny Dyer' style tree would be a fabulous family history keepsake, so we're delighted to be able to give away one chart drawn by Janet including up to 40 names, with dates and a location - worth more than £300.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply visit our competition page here.

Read on to find out more about Janet's wonderful tree charts.

I enjoy the mixture of logic and artistic design needed to produce a tree that is both gorgeous and easy to understand.

The greatest pleasure of turning a customer’s research into a beautiful tree is knowing that their research will be looked at and admired by many people. I created a tree for a couple who came with their children to collect it: the children had never shown any interest before, but were suddenly fascinated by this picture that told the story of their history and were bursting with questions for their mum and dad.

I’ve also made trees for display at weddings and family reunions: what a pleasure to think of people standing in front of it tracing how they are connected.

The information that goes onto a tree is a very personal choice - some are simply the main ancestors with their dates, others have siblings, locations and more. I love including occupations and snippets of information about people as it really brings the tree to life.

One of the finest trees I’ve created includes many family photos plus a newspaper clipping reporting the murder in the 1920s of a lady by her husband - both ancestors of my customer of course. Others have included famous history events, which help to envisage what the world was like for the generations on the tree.

The biggest tree I’ve made to date was for an American family – it had over 400 people on it and was 4 metres wide. The longest trees so far have been 33 generations from top to bottom – and I’m working on a tree that goes back to the year 700.

Although not a genealogist, I’ve researched (and written!) my own tree, and am therefore able to check facts occasionally if I need to. If in doubt I always query with the customer – sometimes I’ve found errors and on other occasions I’ve helped them find something new.

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Handwritten trees are created using traditional calligraphy techniques and materials: the lettering is usually done using a simple steel nibbed pen and gouache paint or chinese stick ink, on a watercolour paper.

WIN a chart drawn by Janet, worth more than £300

Don't forget to enter the competition to win a family tree chart here!

The question I’m asked most often is “what do you do if you go wrong?”  

The answer is that I have a cup of tea and come up with a plan.

If I think I can conceal a correction then I will do so – paint can sometimes be removed from the paper with a scalpel, or painted over - otherwise I have to start again!

In recent years I have expanded my offering to include printed (rather than hand drawn) trees - these are beautiful and are perfect for when multiple copies are wanted, or when it is likely that the tree will need updating in the future. The prints are on museum quality media to ensure they stay pristine for many years. 

The commissioning of a tree is a fairly straightforward process – once I understand the number of people and the type of information and decoration to be included I can quote a price. The information can be provided in any form – it’s not unusual for a rolled up piece of wallpaper to arrive in the post!

We then have the exciting phase of the tree coming together – and choosing styles and colours and size. This can include decorative elements such as coats of arms.  For a handwritten tree I will create several rough versions as I work out how to make it look balanced and readable.

The writing of a tree only takes a few weeks once the information is agreed. Prices vary but start from around £150 for a printed tree.

And if you’re inspired to write out your own family tree, I teach calligraphy too and will happily help with tips on how to design yours.

Find out more about Janet and her charts at www.familytreepictures.weebly.com.

Don't forget to enter the competition to win a family tree chart here!

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