How to Make a Family Tree

by Dan Ketchum ; Updated March 15, 2018

While sitting down at a drafting table and creating a family tree by hand is always an option – and one that affords a virtually unlimited amount of creative freedom – not everyone has the talent, tools and time for such an undertaking.

Alternatively, handy templates and gorgeous, simple online family tree generators help you turn all the genealogical information you've compiled into works of art. These aren't the sum total of your myriad options, but they serve as helpful springboards for sprouting your very own family tree.

Gathering Your Info

Genealogical data makes up the roots, trunk, branches and leaves of your family tree. No matter how you go about making the visual diagram, you'll need to start with plenty of raw info.

The roots of your tree start with personal info. Collect and write down what you already know about your relatives; then start branching out by interviewing your parents, grandparents and extended family.

When in-person interviews only take you so far back, track down the latest edition of the International Vital Records Handbook at your local library. This will let you know exactly who to contact in your region to get your hands on local records. Likewise, use FamilySearch's map tool to find Family History Centers and FamilySearch affiliate libraries in your area. On the online front, dig through the National Archives to help round out your tree.

The Template Option

Once you've got enough raw info to start drafting up a visual, printable templates offer a nice middle ground between drawing your tree from scratch and using an online app to automatically generate one.

Family Tree Magazine, for instance, offers four illustrated family tree templates, all free to download and print. These include various designs, charts, a family group sheet and even a relationship diagram. All you have to do is print the templates and fill in the blanks with your family's information.

If you'd prefer to go fully digital, plug a family tree template into SmartDraw or download a free family tree chart for Microsoft PowerPoint. Once downloaded and opened up, it's as simple as plugging in your unique family data.

The Online Route

Online family tree generators offer the easiest and most feature-complete way to make a family tree from scratch. In even better news, these apps often help you find family records along the way. There's no shortage of online options, and each caters to different needs and preferences.

For example, FamilyTreeNow is a completely free tool that starts with your entering your first and last name and location. From there, the site pulls up public records, which you can place on your digital tree. All you need to sign up is a Facebook or Google account – as you select records and fill in info such as gender and status, FamilyTreeNow automatically places your family on the tree's branches.

Similarly, Ancestry's family tree app starts building your tree as soon as you enter your name, age and gender. The more info you add, the more the tree unfolds as the service searches through billions of records provided by millions of fellow budding genealogists. This visually striking and detailed service is free to start, but full memberships begin at $20 per month.

For the more visually oriented who are already armed with all the info they need, Canva's family tree tool allows you to choose from hundreds of design elements, backgrounds, colors and fonts as you simply drag-and-drop elements into place. This one is all about making your tree look good. The final product can be shared across smart devices or exported as a PDF, JPEG or PNG.

About the Author

With a diverse professional background and a decade of experience as a freelance writer, Dan has contributed lifestyle content -- from fashion to travel to fitness and more -- to publishers including Chron, Fortune, Sony, GlobalPost, ModernMom, Moviefone, Salon.com, Techwalla and dozens of others.