If you have just started a genealogical search, you’re probably looking into creating your first family tree, even if it’s a small one. A tree is a great idea because it will help you visualize the relationships between the different family members and, if you build it online, store all of your documents and photos in a single, easy to access place. 

Before you Start your Family Tree

The first thing you should do when starting a family tree is to gather all relevant information you have about your family history and make sure you can access it as you build the tree. This will include documents such as birth and marriage certificates, photos, and anecdotes you’ve heard from your relatives or friends. Depending on where you build your tree, this data can become the difference between a research tool and an inspiring piece of history.

Next, you should decide if you want to have the family tree in paper or in a digital medium (and, if that’s the case, if you want it to be online or offline).

I like to think of a family tree as a sort of living organism. My tree has over 1200 people and growing, and I’m constantly editing it – adding new data, updating existing one and, once in a while, breaking through a whole new line!

Genealogy is a fascinating hobby, and family trees are a fun tool to create and maintain. Now, let’s see the different options for tackling this project. 

A medieval family tree. British Library, Kings MS 395, fols. 32v-33r
A medieval family tree. Source: British Library, Kings MS 395, fols. 32v-33r

Drawing your Family Tree on Paper

One of the challenges of drawing your family tree on paper is the amount of branches you’ll have to add. In all likeness, it will be impossible to fit all people in one graphic, but there are several tricks you can use to still manage your family tree as one.

If you family is large, you can first focus on the parents and leave the siblings out. This will create a tree that grows in a regular way, making it easier to calculate the physical space required to add all members (it will always be an inverted pyramid with 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 people and so on, with small variarions for unknown parents or people that remarried). You can also use a pedigree chart to follow one line only. 

When I create trees that are in progress (especially when I’m  digging up information from census and boat registries, where you have partial data such as entry dates and which groups might have travelled or lived together), I list a couple’s children as an ordered vertical list – one under the other – with birth and death dates between brackets next to the names. 

Another thing you can do is separate your tree into smaller families (or create multiple trees). You can then choose how much information to add to each of them based on the number of people, and pick different layouts too. 

Pre-printed trees are a good option too, because they take off the pressure of fitting family members into a small piece of paper.

Some people have experimented (and absolutely recommend) using wallpaper rolls to create a family tree! This is an economic options that can actually serve a decorative purpose given the opportunity. 

Some people believe than rather than trying to fit everyone in a tree, a book with selected lines can be more interesting. This would mean writing up a narrative history with the barest of trees in the front to show where people are.

The family tree of Ludwig Herzog von Württemberg
An Inverted Pyramid Tree: The family of Ludwig Herzog von Württemberg (ruled 1568–1593)

Creating your Family Tree Online

There are many online services you can use to create your tree. Some of them are paid, offering advantages such as connecting with other people’s trees and with document databases. But there are several good alternative options that are free, and might be enough for your needs.

Among the paid services you can find Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast. Free options include FamilyEcho or FamilySearch

If you are looking for an offline family tree builder, you could try Family Tree Builder (free download, created by MyHeritage), Family Tree
Maker 2017 (paid), and Legacy 9 (paid). Modern genealogy software has a lot of useful features for amateurs who are just starting out to seasoned professionals. 

A FindMyPast Family Tree
A family tree created in FindMyPast
A screenshot fromthe software Family Tree Maker 2017.

Whatever tool you decide to use, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy creating your family tree. If you have any ideas, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

More Resources for Creating Your Family Tree

Family Tree Workbooks

Family Tree Workbooks

Family Tree Software

Books About Genealogy