Family Tree

What is a family tree? A family tree is the most common form of visually documenting one's ancestry. Most family trees include a box for each individual and each box is connected to the others to indicate relationships. In addition to an individual's name, each box may include dates, birthplace, and other information, depending on the desired complexity of the family tree diagram.

Family tree example

Typically, a generation is organized into a single level so it's easy to see at a glance which ancestors preceded which generation because they are physically above them on the tree.

A horizontal line between two boxes indicates a marriage. A bracket from a couple to a lower set of boxes indicates the children from that marriage. Although most family trees grow vertically, they are occasionally drawn sideways, as well.

Family tree horizontal

Common Uses of a Family Tree Diagram

Family trees give an excellent visual of one's family and can be used in many ways. The act of creating a family tree alone gives an individual a sense of history and belonging. Sharing a family tree with generations helps keep the history of the family alive and is perfect when new members join the family, for example through marriage or adoption.

A basic family tree

Best Practices When Creating a Family Tree

  • Plan your family tree. Determine what you'll do with the family tree. Will it be printed and framed for display? Will it be shared electronically? If the plan is to print the family tree, you may choose to be conservative in regards of the amount of information to include, keeping the information legible and printable. If the plan is to share it electronically then the size of the diagram is not a factor.
  • Determine the level of complexity. Knowing the level of detail you wish to portray in the family tree will help determine the level or research you'll need to do. It will also affect the size of the boxes as well as the overall design of the family tree.
  • Do your homework. In order to create an in-depth family tree, you may need to contact individuals within your family. If you're lucky, you may have a relative who has already documented some of the information you need.
  • Know your audience. Family trees depict family relationships and bloodlines. Yet they also document history that may not be known by everyone in the family. Before you reveal family secrets unwittingly, make sure you know who will be viewing the family tree and plan accordingly.