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How to Create a Family Tree

By Charles Hopkins Published 01/17/2007 | Genealogy

As you begin to assemble information about your family history, you will no doubt want to create a family tree. Here are a few tips to help you understand what a family tree is and how it is organized.

Essentially, your family tree is an organized chart that shows both your paternal and maternal lines.  Included in the detail will be information about each family member, including birth and death dates, wedding dates, names of children, and usually the locations where each person lived and died. To keep the information in a simplistic readable format, the concept of the tree is often used as a way of ordering the chart. Family units are grouped together and have two branches off that unit - one following the maternal line, and the second following the paternal line.

The look of your family tree can be as simplistic or as whimsical as you would like it to be. You may prefer to prepare a simple flow chart that follows a spreadsheet format. This is the design often used by genealogists, and is referred to as a pedigree chart. The beauty of the pedigree chart is that you can easily scan both paternal and maternal lines fairly quickly. Because the cart normally reads left to right, you can also scan from top to bottom to look at a single generation for both lines.

The easiest way to begin compiling your family tree is to begin with yourself as the latest generation.  The second generation to profile would be your parents, your grandparents comprising the third generation, and so on as far back as you can go through each side of your ancestry. Most pedigree charts have room to record up to five or six generations of your direct line on one sheet. From there, you can pick up on subsequent sheets, as you delve back further into your family's history. 

If you prefer a chart that is a little more whimsical, you can obtain pedigree pages that have the actual outline of a tree, with many branches. Following the same idea of beginning with your self as the first generation, you gradually work your way backward in time, adding names to the appropriate branches in the tree. While this type of documentation can be a little more difficult to scan, it certainly can be a lot of fun and will be quite striking once you have the branches completely filled out.

Before you begin to enter your data into the family tree, make sure you have verified the dates, spellings and locations to the best of your ability. Certainly, if you have been able to secure information from some official source, that is very helpful. Personal diaries and letters written by the actual ancestor also will help validate your data. Remember the object of the family tree is to be able to pass on to future generations an understanding of how the family line developed over time, and who was involved in that development. 

Creating a family tree can be a task that you can do alone, or you could make it a family project, involving your siblings, children, or other relatives. As you research the history of your family, you will no doubt come across many amusing and exciting events that will be of interest to future generations. By creating a family tree, you have supplied them with a foundational document that will help them understand their heritage.