5 Simple Steps for Making Your Family Tree

October is Family History Month, and there’s no better time to learn about your ancestors. One of the first steps in discovering your family roots is creating a family tree. Whether a simple pedigree chart or a framed piece of art displayed in your home, it’s a great way to begin your genealogy journey and celebrate your heritage. 

Step 1. What Do You Know About Your Family?

Your first step is to organize what you know about your family. Using a pedigree chart or even a blank piece of paper, write down your name and date of birth. List your siblings next to you and your parents’ names above you, including birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, and locations for those events.

Continue going back generation by generation. It’s OK if you don’t know everything. 

Next, it’s time for a treasure hunt in your home. Drag out those boxes from the attic, basement, and hall closet. Open up those filing cabinets. Review family documents, letters, and photos. Add additional ancestors and details to your family chart. Download my free checklist of Genealogy Home Sources for a list of items to look for in your search.

Finally, reach out to your relatives to help fill in any gaps.  Ask if there is another family member who has done some research on the family. Their work could be a big timesaver!

Following these tips for recording information. It will help you in your research:

  • List full names: first, middle, and LAST. Surnames in all CAPS.
  • For women, always list maiden name (if known)
  • Write dates as Day-Month-Year (e.g. 11 Jul 1941).
  • List place including City, County, State

Step 2. Prepare Your Genealogy Journey

You probably are heading to your computer to start researching, but wait! Would you start a trip with no destination in mind, no map, and an empty suitcase?  

“The person who journeys aimlessly will have labored in vain.”
-Mark the Monk

Tracing your entire family tree at once can be overwhelming and get you into trouble fast. Take a few minutes to plan your genealogy journey. 

Look at your family tree draft. Decide which branch you will research first. It’s a good idea to focus your research on one branch at a time. We call these research sessions. For your first tree, set a goal of going back 3-5 generations on each side of your tree. It's a doable goal and most trees don't include more than that.

To keep things simple, plan to limit yourself to direct line ancestors on your first pass (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.). You can, and should, plan to add siblings in future research sessions.

Write down your plan:

  1. The branch you will research first
  2. How many generations you intend to go back
  3. Ancestors you are missing on that branch
  4. Dates and locations you are missing on that branch
  5. Records you need to locate and where you will look

Step 3. Plant Your Tree Online 

Online trees are great for saving, organizing, and sharing what you discover. The big three genealogy websites are Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org , and MyHeritage.com. All have extensive record collections and powerful family tree-building tools. 

While most are subscription-based, look for free trials or access them for free through your local library. Try them out to see which one fits you best.

Step 4. Review Records

As we say in genealogy, there is no “truth” without “proof.” The names and dates in your family tree should be based on what you find in records. We call this "documented evidence." 

These records are a good place to start finding names and dates for your family tree:

  • Census records
  • Birth records
  • Marriage records
  • Death records

Play detective and lawyer when reviewing records. Look for clues to guide your research and evaluate documents like evidence. Examine original documents whenever possible. Make sure dates and names correlate with other known facts and documents. 

Tip- Beware of shaky leaf syndrome. Do not accept hints or information from other family trees. The John Smith in their family tree might not be the John Smith in yours. Consider them suggestions, not shortcuts.

Step 5. Sharing Your Family Tree

Here's the fun part! Turning your chart into something special to share.

Share Your Tree Online
MyHeritage, Ancestry, and FamilySearch allow you to invite your family and friends to view the tree you created online. In most cases, visitors will be required to create a free guest account.

Private family Facebook Groups are another great way for connecting with relatives and sharing family history information. 

If you and tech-savvy, you might consider creating your own family history website. You can share your family tree, photos, and blog about your discoveries.

Custom Decorative Family Tree
One of my favorite ways to share family trees is to put them on the wall for all to see. Even if you didn't get the creative gene, the sky is the limit on what you can create. 

I created this family tree to celebrate my daughter's wedding. It was on display at the wedding and now hangs in their new home.

The Family Art Shop

I created this family tree with Family Chart Masters to celebrate a client's Mayflower roots.

Family Chart Masters

The Craft Patch

Fill In The Blank Chart
Do you have superb penmanship? Show it off by using a simple fill-in-the-blank chart and frame it. You can find many on Etsy.

RaymonTrup on Etsy


Custom Artwork

Foxbairn on Etsy

Every Family Has a Story. Ready to Discover Yours?

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