How to Read a Family Tree

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Researching your family history and discovering how to read a family tree are two of the most fascinating and revealing things you can do. It will allow you to feel a great connection to the family members who came before you.

Even if you go back to people you have never met, you will still feel a sense of familial connection. After all, these are some of the people responsible for your existence.

The easiest way to lay out your family connections is with a family tree. You might have made one of these in kindergarten to show your parents, grandparents, and siblings.

But professional family trees are a little more complicated (although they can still be shaped like an apple tree if you really want them to).

When you begin to go back farther than your grandparents, your family tree will become more complicated and difficult to read. But, once you get your bearings, they are very simple to understand.

Family trees are essentially the maps that show the connections between your family members. They can even have additional layers as you learn more about the marriages and partnerships that bring in other family members.

Table of Contents

What Does a Family Tree Look Like?

A family tree is a very simple device used to map out the members of a family. It is simply made up of names (and maybe a photo), birth and death dates, and lines connecting these people.

how to read a family tree

Lines that go horizontally indicate a marriage or a partnership. Lines that go vertically indicate the relationship between a parent and a child.

This sounds very simple (and it is if you have a small family) but things get a little complicated when you have a large family or try to work out extended family members.

Not every family member will be connected by a line. Cousins or aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews won’t be connected to each other. But, if you trace the lines it becomes much easier. 

Reading a family tree is very easy. All you need to do is trace the lines that connect all of the names. These will tell you the relationships.

Depending on the software used (or if it has been handmade) there will potentially be a key to help you with any differences in the lines.

For example, different lines will be used for a marriage, a civil partnership, a couple living together, a separated couple, and a divorced couple.

How to Research Your Family Tree

Researching your family tree is pretty easy, especially at first. Once you have the names of your core family members, you can start working your way back.

It’s a good idea to focus on one parent at a time. Otherwise, things might get a bit confusing. 

Speak to Family Members

The best thing to do is, if you can, speak to elderly relatives. People love to take photos and keep mementos.

So they will likely have a huge number of photos, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other items that can give you a great idea of your family.

They will also likely have a lot of stories to share. This will be the most enjoyable, interesting, and most human way of beginning your research.

Use Family Tree Software

Even looking at the paperwork and information about your parents can provide you with a lot of data. This can become overwhelming so it’s important to keep it all well-organized.

You can use a Word document or a spreadsheet. But one of the best ways to keep track of your information is with family tree software.

There are lots of free online services that can provide you with a very simple way of documenting your family members. Pretty much every service will provide you with the option to create a family tree.

Try to find software with an interactive family tree. These allow you to attach information to family members.

So, when you want to check some documents, you can simply open up the family tree, click on the person’s name and find everything you have that relates to them.

A lot of family tree software will also help you in your research. A huge number of documents have been digitized and can be searched through online.

This means that you can put in, for example, the name and birth date of your grandfather, and the software will bring up everything they have about him. 

Visit Your Local Archives

If you live in the same area as many of your ancestors, or if you can access the area easily, a really useful resource will be the local archives.

This will usually be in the local library or city hall. These buildings archive huge numbers of documents that relate to births, marriages, and deaths. 

They will also likely have a large archive of newspapers. Even if no one in your family did anything notable enough to be written about, they will likely have published announcements concerning engagements, christenings, and deaths.

But, that said, you might even come across something exciting about your ancestors! 

In Conclusion

If you’re researching your family history, you will likely have come across a huge number of documents. These can be complicated and confusing.

Especially if they are old and faded. If you’re using software that creates a family tree with the information you input, you might not quite be able to understand everything it tells you.

But, all you need to do is trace the lines and check the key. Eventually, you will be able to read a family tree without even thinking about it.

Researching family history is a very common hobby. So there is a chance that someone else in your family has given it a go. Speaking to family members is the best way to find out about your ancestry.

Then you can gather all the information and get serious with your research. You can visit archives and libraries and use the masses of information online.

Researching your ancestry and building a family tree is a big project. But it is absolutely worthwhile.

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.