Draw a Family Tree

One example of a family tree illustration; copyright Liliya Shlapak at Dreamstime.com

You don't have to be an artist to draw a family tree. All it takes it is a little planning, a few supplies, and some time. Depending on the complexity of your project, this may even be a great way to get the kids involved in your genealogy work. The result is a beautiful heirloom you can hang on your wall or give as a gift to a family member.

Things You'll Need to Draw Your Tree

Before you get started, you'll need some supplies and information. Having these things on hand before you put your pencil on the paper will help make the whole process go more smoothly.

Tools and Supplies

Gather the following tools and supplies:

  • Yardstick
  • Large piece of paper or posterboard
  • Pencil
  • Small removable sticky notes
  • Calligraphy pen
  • Photographs of family members, if desired

Necessary Information

You'll need to know these basic facts about each individual on your tree:

  • Given name
  • Birth date and place
  • Death date and place
  • Identity of parents

How to Draw a Family Tree

Creating a beautiful family tree is all about planning. If you follow these steps and work slowly, you'll end up with a work of art.

Plan Your Design

A family tree can be as small as three generations or as large as 20. When choosing the size of your tree, consider the following:

  • How large is your paper? You can include more generations on a sheet of posterboard than you can on a regular sheet of letter-sized paper.
  • How much do you know? Take a look at your genealogy research and determine how many generations' worth of information you know. Stop your tree at the generation where you first encounter a blank.
  • How large will you be writing? If you're making a poster than will be viewed from far away, you won't want to include too many generations. If you'll be looking at this tree for your research, you may be able to include several more branches.

If this is your first tree, a good rule of thumb is to include four or five generations.

Create a Grid

To keep your generations straight and your tree even, you'll need to make a grid on your paper. Here's how to do it:

  1. Orient your paper landscape-style, so that the longest side is facing you.
  2. Block off a small area for your tree's title at the top of the paper and a trunk at the bottom of the paper, and don't include these areas in your measurements. Measure the height and width of your paper on the edges. The height should be shorter than the width.
  3. Divide the height of your paper by the number of generations. This will give you the height of your grid blocks. For instance, if your paper is 20 inches tall and you're planning to include five generations, each grid block will be four inches tall.
  4. Divide the width of your paper by the number of individuals in the last generation. The first generation has one person, the second has two, the third has four, the fourth has eight, the fifth has 16, and so on. If your paper is 32 inches wide and you'll be including five generations (16 people), then each grid block will be two inches wide.
  5. Use your yardstick to mark the edges of the grid on the top, bottom, and sides of your paper. Then line up the marks on the top and bottom, and use the yardstick and pencil to draw a faint straight line connecting them. Do the same for the marks on the sides of your paper. You'll end up with a grid that covers the entire sheet. Each box of the grid represents an individual in your family tree.

Make a Mock-Up

Before you start to write your family information on the tree, it's a good idea to create a mock-up using sticky notes. For each individual on your tree, write the person's name and important dates on a small sticky note. Arrange these notes on the grid, starting with the first generation at the bottom.

Design Your Tree

Now it's time to start making your tree shape. Looking at the placement of your sticky notes, use a pencil to carefully sketch a trunk and branches. Each square of your grid with a sticky note in it will need to be included in the branches or trunk of your tree. Write very lightly, so you can erase it if you need to. When you're happy with your tree, go over the pencil lines with a calligraphy pen or marker.

Add the Family Members

Next, transfer the information from each sticky note to the corresponding square on the grid. Be sure to plan for the space you have, using small lettering if necessary to fit everything in. Only transfer one sticky note at a time to keep from getting confused. Discard the sticky notes after you are done. If you are adding photos to your tree, use acid-free adhesive to attach them now.

Finish Your Family Tree

Once you've added everyone to the tree, you can erase the grid lines. Then add artistic touches, such as shading or coloring, to enhance your tree. Finally, you can frame your tree or hang it up for display.

An Heirloom Document

Your new family tree is a work of art, and it makes a great gift for grandparents, newly married couples, new babies, and anyone interested in genealogy. It's also a useful reference for your family history research. No matter how you plan to display or use your tree, you'll be proud of this heirloom document.

Draw a Family Tree