How Family Trees Work

This article may contain affiliate links that pay us a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read our affiliate disclaimer.

A family tree is one of the most common forms of creating visual documentation of your ancestry, so let’s discuss how family trees work!

In many cases, a family tree chart will include boxes containing information about an individual, and the box is then connected to others to indicate their relationships.

Generations usually sit at certain levels, so that you can see which generation is the predecessor and ancestor.

Traditionally family trees will grow vertically, in these cases the youngest/newest generation goes at the bottom of the tree, and the eldest goes at the top, although it is also possible for the tree to be drawn horizontally as well.

In a vertical tree, a horizontal line between two individuals indicates a marriage, and a bracket to a lower set of boxes indicates a child/ children from the said marriage. 

Table of Contents

How to build a family tree?

Why create one?

Building a family tree can be a great way to invest your time if you are even just a little bit interested in your ancestry and where you came from. It can give you some insight into your background, where your relatives came from, and how they lived.

Making a family tree was also give you a connection to your heritage, it can be useful medically as well, tracing your genetics and any previous family health concerns that could be hereditary. 

You can learn your family’s history in relation to historical events. Learning about your ancestors can also be very useful in educating your children, it can pique their interest in the family and family stories and also help them learn about history simultaneously.

Getting Started

Before you get started on drawing and researching your family tree, you can start with a little planning, this will help you evaluate how you will go about building this.

You should ask a few questions, such as; how far back do I want to look? Do you have any information as a starting point? How much information do you want to include (births, deaths, etc) on each individual? Will you include pictures of these relatives? 

You will also want to make a decision about whether or not you want to draw your family tree, you can draw it horizontally or vertically, there is no specific way that is better, is it merely about preference. You could look up examples to see what better fits your needs. 

You could even be more simplistic if you wanted. If you wanted to simply focus on family relationships without having to include all the complex detailed information, there is the option of a kinship diagram.

Similar to a family tree it uses basic symbols, lines, and letters that best represent relationships and members of your family. This gives you the opportunity to visualize your lineage without any need for complexities.

We recommend this type if you are wanting something minimalistic for personal purposes.

Options such as more detailed family trees are best for deeper information, more vibrant visualization and are also fantastic for creating family trees with children. 

How to draw a family tree?

Getting the Information

One of the first steps in creating your family tree is to compile what you know, make a note of what you know about your family so far and then ask fellow family members to fill in any gaps or add in information.

You can visit libraries and also use online genealogy sources for things such as census records, land deeds, and other legal documents that can assist in building your family tree records. 

You can only go back so far with most of these sources due to the limited reliable records. Even using online ancestor tracking resources you may only be able to go back a few hundred years. This is due to a great deal of records being destroyed in fires, floods, wars, and so forth.

Some corners of the world may have records that date back further so you may get lucky, this is simply due to some countries being more stringent with the record-keeping.

You can also take a DNA test with online genealogy providers. These can track DNA and in some cases can help build up your ancestral tree as well as providing additional information such as your ancestral ethnicities. 

Creating the Outline

Once you have compiled all your information you can start to outline your family tree.

You can start from yourself or your children/grandchildren and work your way up to your eldest known ancestors, or you can work from the eldest ancestor down the family to the youngest generation.

It is entirely up to you, as is whether or not you draw your family tree horizontally or vertically. 

How you draw the tree is also up to you, if you are making this a family activity with children involved it can be fun to draw it freehand with a pen and paper.

You can also create family trees online, you can use templates online, doing so can be really useful as websites that offer this kind of service often also have tools that will help you research and build your tree.

Adding the Information

Once you have your tree layout, you can add in each family member, they can be represented by a shape, and connected by lines to represent relationships.

You can be as creative as you want with your family tree, you can use any shapes at all to represent your family members, and design it in whatever way best suits your family. 

You can place pictures of your relatives on here, as well as important dates or information, you could note their careers if you have access to this detail.  

If you intend to have this family tree diagram as a useful bit of information for the whole family then keep it simple, so that the information remains clear.

A good tip is to have each generation on a singular line so that the generations are kept clear and separate to avoid confusion.

Now that you know how family trees work, do you want some inspiration? Check out our family tree project post!

About Chris Craft

Hi! I'm Chris(topher) Craft. I'm a believer, husband of an amazing woman (Wanda), and father of three talented kids (Naomi, Maria, and Elijah). I love writing, making music, learning about God's Hand in History, entrepreneurship, and basketball. Thank you for reading my stuff! ❤️ Connect with me on Twitter @CraftWrites.