How to Start Making a Family Tree

Starting a family tree

Creating a family tree can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it can also be difficult to figure out where to start. This type of project doesn't have to be overwhelming. No matter how much, or how little, information you know about your ancestors, you can create a beautiful tree to display your research.

How to Start Researching Your Family History

If you're new to genealogy, researching your family history can seem daunting. Fortunately, there are a number of online resources that can help. Start first by following these steps.

1. Write Down What You Know

Start by writing down everything you know about your family, one person at a time. For each individual, you'll want to know the following:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Date of marriage, if applicable
  • Date of death, if applicable
  • Names of parents

Begin with yourself, and then move on to your parents and their parents. The further back you can go, the more of a head start you'll have on your tree.

2. Talk to Older Relatives

If you have older relatives living, they can be an invaluable resource for starting your research. Use oral history forms to record the information you learn. Ask about specific family relationships that can extend what you already know about your family.

3. Start with the Free Genealogy Sites

woman researching

Now that you have a list of what you already know, you can use that information as a starting point to conduct free genealogy research. Before you commit to expensive subscriptions or visit libraries and historical societies, see what you can find out using free genealogy websites. These sites allow you to access specific information, like certain census records, free of charge, and they can help you answer some of your questions about your family history. As you work, continue to write down what you know for your family tree.

4. Look into Public Records

Public records can help you fill in even more blanks in your tree, and you can often access these through the historical society or library of the location your ancestors lived or on genealogy sites. These records can give you lots of important answers. For instance, death records often include an individual's parents' names, birth date, and death date. Birth records usually list the father and mother and the location and date of birth. Obituaries can also offer vital information.

5. Get a Trial Membership to Subscription Services

Sometimes, the easiest way to find what you need to know is through a subscription service like Ancestry.com. However, if you're working on a one-time family tree project or you're on a budget, this isn't always worth the price of the subscription. Luckily you can get a two-week free trial of Ancestry.com to see if you like it and possibly answer some of your most pressing questions.

How to Organize Your Research

By now, you probably have a pile of papers and notes about your family history. Organizing your research is important if you're going to transform that pile into a family tree. Follow these steps.

1. Use Genealogy Forms to Keep Track of Information

Genealogy forms, such as individual data sheets, cemetery research logs, and timelines, can get your facts organized for you. If you don't plan to continue your research after you make your tree, these forms may be all the organization you need.

2. Input Family Data into Free Genealogy Software

using software

If you want to continue your research but don't want to purchase a full software program, try out some free genealogy software. Although these programs don't usually contain all the features of paid software, they can be an excellent intermediate step if you're just starting your tree.

3. Consider a Full-Featured Software Program

Full-featured software like Family Tree Maker can be pricey, usually from $30 to $100. However, if you're going to keep working on your tree, it may be worth the cost. These software programs not only organize your work; they can even interface online and help you conduct more research. Whether this is worth purchasing is really a matter of how much you'll be using the software.

How to Create Your Family Tree

Now that you've conducted and organized your research, it's time to start your tree. There are lots of great options for styles and features of your tree. Follow these steps to get started.

1. Decide on Generations to Include

Before you can pick a template or start inputting information, you should figure out how many generations you want to show. Typically, trees show four or five generations of a family, but you can make yours larger or smaller, depending on your needs. Take a look at your research and determine how many complete generations you have. When you start dealing with missing individuals, that's a good place to stop.

2. Choose a Template

There are lots of great family tree templates out there, many of them free. The right one for you will depend on the information you want to include and the audience who will view it. Consider these options:

  • Family tree templates for kids are great for sharing your research with younger generations of your family. They have kid-friendly themes and bright colors.
  • Free printable family tree charts are great for displaying your information for family reunions or gifts. There's a style perfect for every situation.
  • Printable pedigree charts are another form of family tree, showing several generations of a family. They are a good way to share your information with other adults.

3. Input Your Information

Once you've chosen a template, start inputting information. Check each entry to make sure it's correct, and preview the entire tree before you print. Then sit back and admire your hard work.

Enjoy Your Project

If you break the process down into manageable steps, starting your family tree isn't hard. In fact, you may find that you enjoy your project so much that you keep on researching, going back even further than you imagined.

How to Start Making a Family Tree