How to Build Your Own Printable Family Tree

family tree image by Judy Ben Joud from

If you're looking for a simple, visual way to document your family's history, making a family tree is the perfect option. You can do it all from home, too, by finding a template online and using it to build a family tree from your computer. Customize it, print it out and have a visual tool at your fingertips for tracking your ancestry.

How Family Trees Work

First, figure out how many generations you want to show on your family tree. A simple tree might go back just four generations, to your great-grandparents, but it's up to you how far back you'd like to trace. No matter how many generations you decide to include, start with yourself at the bottom of the chart and work backward from there.

Create a key of symbols to represent each individual in your family and their relationships to each other. Traditionally, rectangles represent males while circles represent females, but you can choose which shapes represent which sexes in your own family tree. Also include various patterned lines to represent different relationships: Usually, solid horizontal lines represent marriages, solid vertical lines connect parents to biological children and solid dotted lines connect parents with adopted or foster children. You'll also include siblings, and the tree can work either vertically or horizontally depending on the template you choose (more on templates later).

Consider including birth dates and photos in addition to names on your tree, and remember that each layer should represent just one generation, in order to keep everything simple and easy to read.

Where to Find a Template

To make a family tree you can print at home, start with a pre-designed template. You can find family tree templates online at a plethora of websites, some of which, like SmartDraw, will design the whole tree for you after you just fill in everyone's names and relationships. Some templates are more minimalist and professional looking, while others have more fun and intricate designs.

Some templates are designed like an actual tree, with the oldest generation – and the widest layer – at the top, and each next generation growing smaller and smaller. But a family tree is really only a chart, and can be read in any direction you choose. The next most popular design goes from left to right, with the youngest generation (you and your siblings) at the far left, and the generations growing older as you read from left to right. However, your tree can be read from right to left if you'd like, or from top to bottom. It's up to you.

Bringing Your Tree to Life

This family tree is for printing purposes, so make sure you have the equipment you need to make it look as nice as it can. If you've included many generations and can't fit the tree on normal printing paper, consider using a graphics and printing company to print the family tree for you. Some companies, such as Ancestry Graphics and Printing, specialize in printing family trees on large-format, continuous roll paper.

Otherwise, if your tree is simple enough to fit on normal printing paper, consider printing it with your home printer. From there you can laminate it or frame it, depending on your end goal for the family tree.