Family trees come in all shapes and sizes, like the groups they represent.
Some are small and neat while others are large and rambling. Both are a visual snapshot of those who came before us and the potential of what is still to come.
These diagrams are a powerful resource for every family historian. At a glance, you can learn so much about a family line such as births, deaths, marriages, size and names. In turn, this creates an opportunity to find clues that aren’t obvious when looking at family members one at a time.
A family tree can fit almost any shape that you can imagine – circles, triangles, or a standard org chart. Most families will fit into any of those, but the tricky part is getting it to fit onto a printable page.
It’s a problem I had at the start of my genealogy journey too. And solving it is what led me to the diagram style that I still use today.
My favourite design has always been a vertical family tree. It’s what I created when I first started researching. That was in the early 1990s, and I had no access to other family historians or genealogy templates. No internet. No Google.
I’d only seen ever seen one family tree which Dad’s cousins picked up at a reunion. It was hand drawn and a little hard to follow, but I thought it was a work of art. There were hundreds of names crammed onto an A2 poster, each representing a person related to me. All descended from my Dad’s maternal grandparents.
I immediately knew I needed three more trees, and didn’t have access to paper larger than foolscap at the time. Nor did I have any of the details required to create a family tree, but I was more concerned about the page size. After all, I could find out the details, right? How hard could it be?
Discovering the details is another story, but fitting a large family on one or two pages was the easy part in the end. I wrote out a list of all the people, indenting each new generation.
Did I mention that I didn’t have a computer? I was using one at work, but it would be another 10+ years before I’d have one at home. So all my research notes were handwritten in notebooks including the family trees. Something that was a little awkward when I forgot to include one or two people. I rewrote those trees so many times I almost knew them by heart!
Let me show you a few different looks for your family tree and some software options to create them.
As I proved in the 1990s, all you need is a paper and pen to start creating your family tree. Oh and your genealogy research of course!
The good news for your hand is that today there are other – easier – ways. Any software that lets you create an indented text or list of bullet points is perfect for your family tree.
As a family history enthusiast, you already know that thinking outside the box is a part of the journey. And you have experience thinking creatively to discover your ancestors’ stories.
Now it’s time to turn that creativity to pull together a family tree that is easy-to-follow, and a work of art.
Use your favourite word processing or layout app and get creative. Or show the world that you are a guru with Excel and make good use of the columns and rows.
Finally, see what else you can spot in the details. Is there a family name you missed? Or shared date of birth or death?
Can you see a use for a vertical family tree in your research and storytelling?