Make a family tree

If you’ve been spending some extra time indoors and you’ve run out of ideas, here’s an extra-special project you might not have thought of: Make a family tree.

Many people know their grandparents’ names, but few know all eight of their grandparents’ names, much less all 16 of their great-great-grandparents. How many do you know? And how are you really related to those people you only see at family weddings or trips overseas? This is a great time to figure it all out.

A family tree is a way to visually document your lineage. It’s similar to a tree because you start with one person as a “root” and draw lines like branches that show their relationships to other people.

Beyond preserving family history, making a family tree is also a great family project that covers history, math, and maybe some problem-solving skills as it can be more complicated than it sounds! It’s a great way to make history come alive for children as you find out more about ancestors’ lives, and it demonstrates that research is fun and rewarding. It can even be useful for practical concerns like health history. Bonus: It’s a great excuse to call family and take a walk down memory lane.

But where to start? It’s more complicated than it sounds, but it’s well worthwhile.

Start by jotting down lists of names you know: your immediate family (parents and siblings), your parents’ siblings and their children, your grandparents and their siblings, etc. Then start calling up family to check information and fill in the gaps. (Make sure to get the spelling of names!) Arrange siblings in age order if you can, and add any birthdates that you can find. If you can find photos, all the better.

Now create an outline of your tree. Here you have some decisions to make. You can draw your own family tree on paper or take advantage of templates or interactive websites online. Your tree can branch upward, downward, or sideways. Search up some examples online before deciding on a format.

Start drawing either from yourself toward your ancestors, or from the oldest ancestor you know toward yourself. Each generation of the family should be on a separate level. A horizontal line between two people means they were married, while a bracket to a lower set of boxes indicates their children. As you fill in the boxes, you can also fill in any additional information you’ve managed to find, like birthdates. Your family tree can be artistic or simple and functional—what matters most is the information it holds.

Once you’re done, what a treasure you will have created! Don’t forget to share the completed work with interested relatives. Older generations especially will love and appreciate what you’ve done. Let them tell stories to make it come alive for younger ones.

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