How to google your family tree

How to Build a Family Tree: Tracing Your Ancestors

Identify What You Know and Use Home Sources

Personal knowledge can form the first limbs of your family tree. Begin at home by gathering and organizing your papers, make a simple chart or list, beginning with you, your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Search for the following: 

  • birth, baptismal, graduation, marriage, military, and occupational records
  • death certificates, burial records, and obituaries
  • yearbooks, newspaper articles, family letters, social activity mementos, sports awards, and other documents that might provide names, dates, and locations

Then look at your family’s religious records, old letters, photographs, and memorabilia. Print copies and label everything to document the source, and scan them when possible to save them digitally. Now you are well on your way to forming the branches of your family tree.

Next, contact family members and ask questions about their lives and those of other relatives. Interview all your oldest relatives first. Most of us later regret not doing that in time to learn from them. A sampling of questions might include the following:

  • Where did they live?
  • In what part of the country?
  • What kind of dwelling did they live in?
  • Did they move around while growing up?
  • When and where were their relatives born?
  • When did these relatives die, and where are they buried?

Take along some of your old photos and attic treasures to jog their memories. And be sure to ask if you may see their old family records, letters, photos, and memorabilia. These documents might help you expand your search. Take photographs of their mementos, records, and photos with your camera, phone, or bring a portable scanner. Document the photos you take with names, date, and place.

Listen to their family stories and make notes. Relatives often have different versions of the same story since each person remembers an event in his or her unique way, but these differences make it interesting! Share what you already know with them. Use a tape recorder or video camera if your relative feels comfortable with it—most mobile phones can make audio and/or video recordings today.  Make your initial visits short with someone you are just getting to know. Always ask for permission first before you make copies and take photos, videos, or audio recordings.

Record and Document Your Information

After collecting family information, it is important to record it correctly on forms referred to as family group sheets and pedigree or ancestor charts (download a free fillable NGS Pedigree Chart and NGS Family Group Sheet). Fillable forms let you type into them and save them digitally.

Be sure to indicate a source for each fact.  Your goal is to document the details fully so you can pinpoint exactly where to find the records again. Then file the information in an organized way so that you can locate each individual in your ever-expanding collection. The best way might be to create a folder for each one (either on your computer or in your file cabinet) and include old photos of them, their families, homes, and cemetery markers, plus their important documents, letters, and memorabilia.   Add their stories—both those you heard as a child and those family members tell you.

Two books can help you fully understand how to document your genealogy work:

  • Mastering Genealogical Documentation, a NGS workbook by Dr. Thomas Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA
  • Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA

Prepare Yourself to Build a Strong Tree

The best way to start your family history and build a strong tree is to learn the basics of genealogical methodology.

  • Purchase “how-to” books. One such book is the NGS publication Paths to Your Past: A Guide to Finding Your Ancestors, 2018 Edition. Within its pages, readers learn about research techniques and sources.  A great starting place!
  • Then more in-depth is the “how-to” book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th Edition, by Val D. Greenwood. It will be another great addition to your genealogy book collection. This is a comprehensive textbook with examples of case studies.
  • If you are an NGS Member, please take the free course that comes with your membership called Family History Skills.
  • Next, NGS members and non-members will benefit from enrolling in NGS’s Foundations in Family History education program, start with the Foundations 101 course and also consider the CGS course: Guide to Documentation and Source Citation course.

Decide What You Want to Learn

Pick an individual about whom your information is incomplete. For example, if you are missing information about one of your four grandparents, start with her or him. Try to obtain death, marriage, and birth records if available. Always work backward from the known to the unknown.

Step One: Vital Records Will Be Most Helpful

Your first step should be to obtain vital records if they exist. These include

  • birth
  • marriage
  • death
  • divorce records

Most U. S. states have kept modern vital records since the beginning of the twentieth century. States that were part of the original thirteen colonies are the most likely to have pre-1880 vital records and church records available. Publications such as The International Vital Records Handbook, 7th Edition, and the booklet titled Where to Write for Vital Records provide records descriptions, addresses, and other helpful information. There is also a digital 2014 version available on the Slideshare website from the Division of Vital Records.

Do a Google search for websites for each state archives to learn more about accessing vital records in a particular state.

The FamilySearch Wiki also offers a state-by-state outline of where to find various records for each state. Enter the country, state, or county name in the “Search by place or topic” box or click on the map.

Church and religious records for baptisms and marriages are often substituted for civil vital records before civil vital records were uniformly collected.   The best way to find religious records is to search in the county where the ancestor lived. Use a search engine like Google or WorldCat and use a search term with a county and state name, plus a religious denomination, as in “Methodist church and Franklin County, NY”.  Also check with a library, genealogical, or historical society where your ancestor resided for advice on where to find historical records for the religious denomination of interest.

Census Records from 1940 back to 1790

Another essential record group for genealogical research involves searching all available federal census records to glean personal facts about individuals and put together family groups. Federal census records and indexes 1790–1940 (excluding the 1890 census which was lost in a fire) are available online:

  • Ancestry (the free library edition, which contains census images, is available on site at many libraries and genealogical/historical societies, as well as at LDS Family History Centers)
  • FamilySearch (free access from home once you sign up for a free account; all census images, innumerable other databases, and collaborative family trees)
  • Findmypast (free at many libraries and LDS Family History Centers )
  • MyHeritage (free library edition is available at some libraries and at all LDS Family History Centers)
  • HeritageQuest (available at most libraries across the United States, many of which offer free digital access from home for many Ancestry databases, including census records, through your library card)

Census records can also be viewed on site at the National Archives and its branches.

State Census Records

Many states collected census information from their residents (and also what is called census substitutes) before 1790 or for particular years in-between decennial federal census surveys. The FamilySearch Wiki is a good source to consult for the full complement of records available, state-by-state.

The thirty-one Research in the States guidebooks from NGS also provide excellent record sources beyond federal censuses.

City Directories

City directories are directories that preceded telephone books, which were organized to find people and businesses . They arose from a need for businesses to contact customers, customers to find businesses, and for residents to find one another. Listings for individuals are organized alphabetically by surname and give a home residence and often an occupation, and place of business. Sometimes a listing will include the wife’s name and older children who may have been working.

City directories began to appear right after the American Revolution in larger cities and eventually spread to counties and towns. They were published yearly in most locations.  By the mid-1930s they were discontinued in favor of telephone books and Yellow Pages. City directories are an excellent way to track the movements of people between census years and to separate people with the same name by using addresses and occupations as identifiers.

The best source for discovering early city directories is Dorothea Spear’s Bibliography of American Directories through 1860. The Library of Congress has a full set of all copyrighted directories on microfilm or microfiche (and most directories are copyrighted). Internet Archive and the New York Public Library have been digitizing vast numbers of directories from microfilm, so check their websites for free access to digitized directories now online. Miriam J. Robbins’ free website Online Historical Directories is a growing compilation of online city directories throughout the United States.

The Family History Library has a comprehensive collection, including pre-1860 directories—search the catalog by [STATE], [COUNTY], [TOWN] – DIRECTORIES or click on the state name at the bottom of their United States Directories page. Ancestry, Fold 3, and other genealogy subscription services have more limited but useful collections of city directory records. Libraries often subscribe to databases such as these and may offer additional electronic resources with city directories that are free for patrons. Consult a reference librarian locally for more resources available to you.

The Courthouse

Having collected the basics about your ancestors, you are now ready to visit or contact the courthouse in the locality where your ancestor(s) lived. Wills, probate, and land records are useful for adding information about an ancestor’s life and family relationships, especially pre-1850 when other records may not exist. Call ahead to find where the records are housed as many older records are moved to other repositories if a courthouse runs out of room. At the courthouse itself, in the town or county archives, or in a local library, you may discover:

  • wills
  • probate
  • land records and deeds
  • surveys and
  • other records

The Handybook for Genealogists and Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources can help provide addresses.

If you cannot go to a courthouse in person, search the internet. Many town or county offices have digitized at least some of their records and made them available online. Check the local historical societies and the state archives to see if older records have been transferred there. Another option is to consult digitized microfilm of courthouse records on or see if a local Family History Center still has microfilm for the needed county court records. You may also consider a visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (see below).

Library and Archives Research

Libraries and archives with major genealogical collections are an important way to develop your family history, particularly once you have traced your ancestors back four generations or more. Such collections include compiled family histories and genealogies, local histories, and reference materials that can be extremely helpful in your research. In addition, most libraries and archives have unique collections of unpublished materials including such things as Bible records, photo and newspaper clipping files, and surname files. Your local library probably belongs to a countywide web of digital resources that you can access from home using your library bar code. Library digital web products for patrons contain many genealogical resources such as online historical newspaper collections (i.e. ProQuest, Readex, New York Times Historical Archive), Federal Census free access (Heritage Quest), biographical profiles (i.e., Who’s Who) and much more.

NGS Book Loan Collection

If you cannot get to a genealogy collection or your library doesn’t have the book you want, ask if interlibrary loan (ILL) is available. The NGS Book Loan Collection, held by St. Louis (Missouri) County Library, offers interlibrary loan service to send books in the NGS collection to your local library, for your use. There are more than six thousand genealogies among the twenty thousand books in the collection, many of them circulating. This collection is open to everyone. If the book does not circulate, contact the library staff, they may be willing to copy specific information for your research needs.

Online Newspapers

Vintage and contemporary newspapers are being digitized continuously around the country. They can hold intimate details of our ancestors’ lives such as

  • a birth announcement
  • the story of a runaway bride
  • a big family reunion
  • the celebration of 50 years of wedded bliss
  • a death notice or obituary
  • trouble with the law
  • community involvement or political roles

There are many free collections, starting with the Library of Congress newspaper collection, Chronicling America.  Check Miriam J. Robbins’ state-by-state list of free United States Online Historical Newspapers. Look for local newspapers in the areas your ancestor lived. Many historical societies have preserved copies of early newspapers.

Subscription databases that offer online historical newspaper collections such as Ancestry,, FindMyPast, Genealogy Bank, and others, might be available at no cost if your local library has a subscription.

Foreign-language newspapers can be particularly helpful because the obituaries they print often mention the village of origin of the deceased. These newspapers covered the communities they served more intimately, so obituaries tended to be far more expansive than those printed in English-language newspapers for the same person.

If a particular newspaper important to your family research has not been digitized yet, it may be worthwhile to seek out the microfilm or original print copies as an alternative.

Family History Centers

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has microfilmed

  • vital, land, probate, tax, and military records;
  • state and federal censuses;
  • periodicals;
  • family and local histories; and
  • numerous special collections from all over the world

Many are housed in the FamilySearch Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Some of these vast holdings are available in digital form through the FamilySearch. org website and some on microfilm at the FHL, or the more than five thousand family history centers located throughout the United States and the world. Call your local center to get an idea of their holdings. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is worth the trip to access their full collections in one place. It is an accessible, easy to navigate city.

Genealogical Societies

Family history researchers should consider joining NGS and a local society.

NGS members receive outstanding publications and discounts on the following NGS items

  • online store purchases
  • courses
  • books
  • research trips
  • fees for the annual NGS Family History Conference

NGS members learn from

  • how-to and methodology articles,
  • online courses and resources,
  • conference sessions, and
  • social and digital media offerings

Another less tangible benefit of NGS membership is the camaraderie that our members experience with other like-minded family historians they meet through NGS—either through online educational courses, research trips, or in person at our yearly conferences.

Local society membership can be very helpful if they hold regular meetings with lectures and can give you guidance on local records. Consider joining a society for the area in which you are researching.

Learning More

At this point you have been working mostly on your own. You will probably benefit greatly from taking a more formal genealogy course.

NGS offers courses that provide you with the freedom to learn from home. The NGS Family History Skills online course—free to NGS members—is a good starting point for how to build a family tree. Next, investigate NGS’s building-block-study-program called Foundations in Family History, made up of three progressive parts:

  • Foundations 101
  • Foundations 102
  • Foundations 103

With Continuing Genealogical Studies, NGS also offers courses on specific topics you will want to learn more about. The thirteen course topics include

  • DNA and Genetic Genealogy
  • land and deed records
  • military records
  • documenting your work and adding citations
  • reading old handwriting and transcribing documents

Make sure you take time to go through the entire NGS Learning Center. You will find lots of details about our

  • online courses,
  • annual NGS Family History Conference,
  • genealogy related books, and
  • research trips.

You will also learn about our genealogy publications, including:

  • the scholarly journal with case studies, the National Genealogical Society Quarterly
  • NGS Magazine, which offers a wide variety of the most up-to-date topics and resources and
  • NGS Monthly, a digital publication to help you learn about resources and methodology for research

And if you are looking for answers to questions or making connections with other genealogists, NGS offers FORUM, an online platform for its members.  Its a great place to connect with others around the US and the world, share knowledge, and solve genealogical problems.

Also available are many, many Free Genealogy Resources. NGS has been building a repertoire of personalized learning tools so that everyone can learn in a way that suits them, and at every skill level.

How to Find, Create & Understand Your Family Tree

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Thanks to the popularity of DNA kits and ancestry websites, more and more people are piecing together their family tree. Do you know where your ancestors come from? How far can you trace your family line back through generations? Most people know their parents, grandparents, and maybe even their great-grandparents. Anything beyond that isn’t always clear. 

Jump ahead to these sections:
  • What’s a Family Tree?
  • Who’s Included in a Family Tree?
  • How to Create Your Own Family Tree for Free
  • How to Draw a Family Tree on Paper
  • How to Make a Family Tree Online
  • Popular Free Family Tree Templates for Excel, Google Docs, or Word
  • Popular Family Tree Maker Websites

Luckily, the best time to start your family tree search is right now. There are more tools and resources than ever before to create your own family history, even if you’re not sure where to begin. In this guide, we’ll explain how to find, create, and understand your family tree.

What’s a Family Tree?

Most people are familiar with the concept of a family tree, but what does it really mean? It’s much more than an elementary school project where you write the names of your parents and grandparents. A family tree is a diagram that shows the relationships between people over several generations. 

The tree itself is a symbol. The many branches sprouting from the same trunk symbolize how a family diverges but still rests on the same foundation. Family trees include things like marriages, children, deaths, and so on. They’re a living, evolving story of a family. 

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Who’s Included in a Family Tree?

Family trees come in all shapes and sizes. Most of us have created a small family tree at one point or another, usually as part of a school project. Who exactly should you include in your search for your family tree?

While it might seem straightforward, things get complicated quickly. Adopted children, step-siblings, divorce—all of these things make the family tree a little less clear. Who exactly should you include? The short answer is you should include everyone. No family exists in a vacuum. People lead complicated lives, and relationships often reflect that. Including all of these complex relationships within the family tree gives a full picture. 

The breakdown of a family tree is relatively simple, despite all of these concerns above. Every person can be classified as either a parent, child, or spouse (or combination). Here’s what that means: 

  • Parent: Everyone has parents, even if the lines are blurred. You’ll also want to indicate the specifics of the parent relationship. For example, adoptive, step, foster, guardian, or other relationship. 
  • Child: Children are also essential to a family tree. Again, list whether this is an adopted child, step-child, foster-child, or other relationship. 
  • Spouse: When someone marries another person, they combine family trees. With the spouse or long-term partner, indicate the status of the relationships (married, domestic partner, or divorced). 

Your mom, for example, is your parent. She also likely is the spouse of your dad, and she is the child of your grandparents. This is the basic breakdown of a family tree, and it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. As long as you indicate the status of that relationship (step-parent, divorced couple, etc.), you’ve covered all your bases. 

How to Create Your Own Family Tree for Free

You don’t need any fancy programs or tools to create your own family tree for free. You might have more resources at your disposal than you realize. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your own family tree.

1. Gather the information you already have

The first step is to gather any information that you already have. Most of us already know a few things (or a lot of things) about our family history. You’ll need to input all of these facts and numbers into your family tree, so gathering what you have before you begin helps you hit the ground running. 

Aside from family basics, where else can you find family information?

  • DNA testing kits: DNA testing is a great resource, and it’ll help you determine where to start with your search. If you and other family members have done DNA testing recently, gather this information. 
  • Family bibles: Family bibles usually have a space in the front specifically for a family tree. If you or a loved one has a family bible, ask to use the family tree for your own recordkeeping. 
  • Family photos: Family photos are also a great tool. A picture really is worth a thousand words, so look through old albums and ask around. 
  • Certificates: Collect or ask family members for birth, marriage, and death certificates. We’ll touch more on how to request a death certificate or other documents later in this guide. 
  • Obituaries or newspaper records: Another way to learn more about your family is through obituaries or other written records documenting important dates or events. 
  • Journals and letters: Finally, ask your family members for any old journals, letters, or diaries they might have that contain family information. 

Because all of these documents are a lot to keep track of, make sure you handle everything with care. You don’t want to lose track of important documents or family records. If possible, make digital copies and store everything online for safekeeping. You might be surprised by what you find. Another idea is to create an ancestry folder or binder with everything important so it’s in one place. 

2. Create your tree

You have a lot of options for creating a tree. The best solution is to choose something digital. A digital tree is easiest to edit, and you’ll be doing a lot of that. There are a number of free ancestry charts you can download online that are easy to use, but you might also use a familiar program like Google Sheets, Excel, or Word. 

To set up your tree, you need a space to input names, relationships, and to draw connections between these. It doesn’t have to make the shape of a tree, but it’s usually helpful to stick to a similar shape so everything is easy to understand. Your family tree should include room for the following information:

  • Names: Of course, your family tree wouldn’t exist without any names. Always list the full name when possible. For women, use the maiden name. The married name is implied by their spouses within the tree. More information is always better. 
  • Places: Because you’re telling a story with your family tree, include the place whenever you know it. Be as specific as possible. Including birthplaces, death places, marriage location, etc. shares a fuller story of your family. 
  • Dates: Finally, list any and all dates. As you start to dig deeper into your family’s history, these dates aren’t as easy to find. They’ll be even more significant because of it. If you’re unsure of the exact date, estimate or use the words before, after, or about.

3. Start with yourself

Now that you’ve set up the basic outline for your tree, it’s time to start inputting information. One of the biggest questions is where to begin. The answer is simple—begin with yourself. 

Why start with yourself? First, you already likely know your immediate relatives’ names. You’re more familiar with these dates, relationships, and so on. You’re also likely the most recent person (or your children are), so you can easily work your way back. 

To begin, list your name, your important dates, your spouse (if you have one), and your children (if you have any). From there, work your way back. Fill in your parent’s names, grandparents’ names, and any other relatives you know about. Utilize those documents you gathered in step 1 to piece together as much of your story as possible. 

4. Conduct family research

No matter how many documents you gathered in the first step, you’re likely to find yourself with some gaps in your family’s story. Don’t worry, this is normal. Not all families keep accurate, easy-to-find records, and there are a number of circumstances that act as roadblocks. 

It’s time to put on your detective hat to conduct some family research. Identify these gaps in your family history. What do you want to learn? Maybe you’re interested in the place of marriage for your great grandparents. Maybe you want to find the parents of your great aunt. Try to limit yourself to only a few questions while you’re still getting a feel for this type of research. 

Now, it’s time to search. To make this process a little bit easier, start by searching online. There are a lot of free and paid tools that search through records on your behalf. These are:

  • American Ancestors
  • Family Search
  • Fold 3
  • Ancestry

These online databases help you identify important certificates, documents, and information relating to your relative’s lives. There are many reasons you may need a death certificate, like determining when a family member died or the place of death. Not all relatives keep documents after death, so sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands. 

If you don’t have success with online search tools, it might be time to dig a bit deeper. Not all records are digital, unfortunately. This means you might need to look into the following resources on a local or national scale:

  • Local courthouses
  • Libraries
  • National records
  • Museums

The good news is that, while difficult to search if you’re not located in the area, these resources above are usually free or inexpensive to use. Calling a local courthouse, for example, might be all you need to get the information you’re looking for. You’ll never know what’s possible until you ask.  

5. Share with others

Last but not least, don’t forget to share your family research with others. Including your family members in your search not only brings them into your process, but it helps you fill in those gaps quicker. After a bit of research, your grandmother might remember her sister’s birthplace, after all. You never know what you’ll uncover when you work together. 

Your family history is a deeply personal thing. Creating an ancestry tree is a beautiful way to tribute your family’s past, present, and future. This is a gift not only for yourself but also for future generations. 

How to Draw a Family Tree on Paper

One of the best ways to create a family tree is also the easiest: with pen and paper. It doesn’t get more old-fashioned and traditional than that, but it works. Not only is this a fun craft for the entire family, but it’s also an easy activity you can do yourself. You don’t need any complicated supplies to get started. Here’s how to draw a family tree on paper. 

1. Familiarize yourself with genetic symbols

In healthcare and genealogy, there are special symbols used to create a family tree. These different symbols act like a key for your family tree, making it easier to understand complex structures within your family without any unnecessary designs. While you’re free to choose any symbols you’d like, here are the most common ones and their meanings:

  • Square: A square is used to represent a boy. 
  • Circle: Circles represent girls. 
  • Diamond: If the sex is unknown or nonbinary, a diamond is used. 
  • Triangle: Triangles are used to indicate a miscarriage or stillbirth. 
  • Horizontal line: A horizontal line between two individuals indicates a marriage or partnership. 
  • Vertical line: A vertical line is an offspring or child, typically the result of a marriage.
  • Dotted vertical line: A dotted vertical line symbolizes an adopted child or foster child. 
  • X: If there is an X through the individual, this indicates a death. 

Create a clear key that works for your own family tree. You might choose to use different colors, shapes, or these above. It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with this before you begin. 

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2. Download a free form or chart

Another step that’s optional is to download a free ancestry form or chart. These are premade forms or charts that are designed to guide you through your family tree. Even if you don’t use one of these forms below, they’re a great tool for starting the process. 

  • National Genealogical Society Charts
  • Free Family Tree Templates for Children
  • Family Tree Templates from Family Search
  • Ancestry Charts and Forms

Once you’ve chosen one of the free forms or charts above, continue to the next step. If you’d prefer to make your own, consider the above tools as a starting guide to draw inspiration from in your own work. 

3. Create an information standard

Next, create a clear standard for your organization. While the symbols above are a good first step, taking the time to think out your information in advance will save you time and stress. Always list the male and female in the same positions (e.g., male on the left) for clarity. 

Consider what information you’d like to include. You can include as much or as little as you want. Most family trees have some combination of the following:

  • Name
  • Place of birth
  • Date of birth
  • Date of marriage
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Photo

While you certainly don’t have to include all of the above, it’s a great way to be consistent. You can always leave spaces blank for those you don’t have the full information about. This is an opportunity to make an interactive, accurate historical record. 

4. Compile your family data

Next, it’s time to compile your family data. Consider the information you already have and look through free genealogy websites to determine what else you need. You’d be surprised just how much you can find with a web search. With so many databases nowadays, there is no shortage of information. 

If you have a large family tree, it can easily get confusing to compile all of this while creating your tree. To combat this, organize your data in advance. Create a clear list in chronological order so it’s easy to place your family members along your timeline.

5. Start with the oldest entries

Now it’s time to begin your family tree. Start with the oldest entries to your family line. Make these entries at the start of your family tree, typically at the top or the far left depending on the layout of your document. 

From there, begin making your way down the line of your family tree. Take your time to make sure this is accurate. It might be helpful to make a rough draft before finalizing your entries. 

6. Share your family tree

Last but not least, share your family tree with your loved ones. This is never a one-and-done task. Many families add to these family trees throughout the years, and it becomes a collaborative effort everyone enjoys. 

Better yet, when you share your completed family tree, you can get feedback and help from loved ones. You might not know the full story behind certain branches of your ancestry tree, so it’s important to include more perspectives. Ultimately, it’s fun to bring your entire family in on your history together. 

How to Make a Family Tree Online

Another option is to make a family tree online. Making a family tree online is an easy way to update it long-term, especially if you’re working with it as a family. There have never been more online tools to choose from, so follow these steps below. 


Compile your information

To begin, compile the information you already have. The benefit of creating a family tree online is that it’s easy to do research while you work. However, before you get started, prepare any family tree information you already have. This might include family documents, vital records, photos, and so on. 

2. Choose an online tool

There are so many different online tools to choose from. Some of these are designed specifically for making family trees, while others are more basic design tools. You might already be familiar with many online family tree makers. 

The most common tool is Ancestry, but this requires a paid membership. Ancestry creates your family tree automatically as you do research, so this is the most comprehensive tool. However, you don’t have to use a dedicated family tree maker. Other options are Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Both of these are easy for anyone to use, and they have online versions that are collaborative.  

Lastly, you can also use a basic design tool to create your family tree. A tool like Canva or PicMonkey works similar to making a family tree by hand, but you have more graphic freedom. These are both free, collaborative online tools that work great for family tree projects. 

3. Create an organizational system

Just like when creating your own family tree on paper, you should prepare an organizational system for your online family tree as well. While your tool might include built-in organizational features, you can also create your own key. This could be different shapes, colors, or graphics for each addition to your family tree. 

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4. Make your family tree collaborative

Last but not least, make your family tree collaborative. This makes it easy for your loved ones to contribute to your family tree, as well. Ancestry and other family research websites have built-in collaborative features, as do free tools like Microsoft, Google Drive, and even Canva.  

When you add your family members, invite them to collaborate on your project. They might have more information to add, clarifications, or feedback. It’s normal to add to your family tree over time, so why not include everyone in the action?

Popular Free Family Tree Templates for Excel, Google Docs, or Word

There are so many free templates to choose from. While we listed some above, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Below, find a complete list of the most popular free family tree templates. You can use these in Excel, Google Docs, Word, or other suitable programs. 

  • Blank Family Tree: For a traditional tree-shaped family tree template, this free option from Family Tree Templates is downloadable as a PDF. From there, you can hand-write your edits. 
  • 5 Generation Family Tree: If you want to go back 5 generations or less, this 5-generation template is designed with this in mind. Because it’s clearly labeled, it’s easy to use this PDF.  
  • Family Tree for Children: This family tree is appropriate for kids since it’s simple to use and features a fun cartoon. 
  • Basic Pedigree Chart: This four-generation pedigree chart is by the National Genealogical Society. Designed with clear labels and descriptions, this is a ready-made template that’s easy to use. 
  • Standard Pedigree Chart: The National Genealogical Society also has a standard pedigree chart that is more flexible, going back even more generations. 
  • Adoption Family Tree: For adopted children, this family tree is designed to trace families back on both sides. 
  • Fan Tree: An alternative style is the fan family tree. This is easy to edit, and the PDF is available for free from Obituaries Help. 

Popular Family Tree Maker Websites

Lastly, there are many family tree maker websites designed to do the heavy lifting for you. Some of these are entirely free, while some require a paid membership. Try them for yourself to see what works for you. 

Family Echo

First, Family Echo has a free tool that doesn’t require any membership or login information. However, if you want to save your data, you will need to sign up with a Family Echo account. Through this simple chart, it’s easy to drag and drop your information. You can zoom in and out, search, and add special characteristics. 

DNA Weekly

DNA Weekly has a lot of genealogical tools that are easy to use. Their family tree creator is always 100% free, and you don’t have to register to get started. It starts by using your biographical information to build out your family tree. From there, you can save your completed document or share it on social media. 


Lucidchart is an organizational tool that’s used for a number of different things, including making family trees. This is a visual workspace tool, and you’ll need a free account to get started. Use their family tree builder tools to drag and drop your own family tree as many generations back as you want.


Last but not least, you can create an online family tree with Famberry. You’ll need a free account to get started, but this is a fully collaborative family tree tool. Create and curate photo albums within your family tree, making a unique work of art that tells your story. 

Build Your Family Tree

You have to become an advocate for your family’s story, no matter how difficult it is to find what you’re looking for. Nothing beats the satisfaction of solving a family mystery. You’ll feel more connected to your family’s past. While you might know your immediate family members, when was the last time you went deeper than that? Knowing where your ancestors are from, what they went through, and how your family developed through the years is a moving experience. 

Creating a family tree is one of the many ways to start end-of-life planning. By learning more about the life and death of your loved ones and those who came before, you realize the importance of recordkeeping and planning. Are you ready for what lies ahead?

Looking for more ways to preserve your family history? Read our guide on how to write a family history book or essay.


  1. Lawthers, Ann. “Getting Started: Tips to Help You On Your Way.” American Ancestors. 

Genealogy & family history

Find your ancestors in Family Tree

Are you trying to find an ancestor or deceased family member? If so, we encourage you to search our Family Tree, the largest single family tree in the world. It contains over a billion names. The tree is free and public, and the ancestor you're looking for may already be in it.

Gather everything you know about your deceased relative - their full name, birth or death information, if possible the names of parents, spouses or children - and follow these steps to find out if they are listed on Family Tree. Or click on the button below and go directly to our "Search" page.

Family Tree Search is a quick way to start building or adding more information to your family tree

If you want to find a relative who might be in the Family Tree, go to the FamilySearch website and then in the Family Tree tab select Find . Get ready to sign in or create a free FamilySearch account. (You can also access this page via the tab Search and select Family tree .)

On the Find page, enter what you know about your deceased relative. The system will open a page with a simplified search bar that works for the initial search. However, for best results, we recommend that you open the advanced search function by clicking More Options .

Tree Search looks and functions much like the FamilySearch Historical Record Search tool. We did it on purpose, of course. Any search strategies you have learned for this page will be equally useful here. Let's go through each filter individually and see how they work.

1. Names

Let's consider some recommendations for filling in the fields for full name.

  • Enter the person's last name in the Last Name field.
  • Use the Name Variation tab to list maiden names, nicknames, aliases, other spellings of the first name, middle surnames, and any name changes that may have occurred during the person's lifetime.
  • 2nd floor

    Entering the gender of a person Male or Female if known, will narrow your search results.

    3. Events from life

    In the line "Add event from life" enter the information you know about where this person was during his life. Be sure to change the filter from Any to Birth , Marriage , Residence or Death . This will probably make your search more accurate.

    4. Family members

    In section Add family members , enter what you know about the person's spouse, father, mother, or other relationship. You can use the same guidelines and strategies for entering names here as before.

    5. Exact Search

    Directly below the Family Members section is the radio button Show exact search . Be careful using this option. Use it only when the system produces search results in such a volume that you cannot analyze. The actual data in Family Tree may differ slightly from the names, dates, and places you enter, so it's best to be flexible with your search criteria.

    It is important to note that by enabling the checkbox Show exact search , it is not necessary to immediately search for exact criteria. The system opens fields opposite all search filters on the screen, which you can select or leave blank. It is strongly recommended that you fill in only those fields for which you absolutely need to search by exact criteria. Start your search using a small number of these fields. In other words, you can search for exact criteria for a specific date of birth without using other fields.

    After entering the information you know, press Search to search for your ancestor's profile in Family Tree. When the system returns the search results, click on the name to see a summary of that person's information. Then click on the name in the dropdown box to go to the person's page.

    Helpful Hints for Finding the Right Person

    Too Many Results

    Use the gray button filters at the top of the page to quickly narrow your search results:

    In the search, as shown in these screenshots, I first enter my great-grandfather's name. As you can see, this broad search brought up a lot of results - too many to explore. If I click on the filter Birth and select a specific region of the world, I can immediately decrease that number.

    No results or matches

    If your initial search was unsuccessful, use the search bar on the right side of the screen to change your criteria. Note: Depending on your screen size, the search bar may be initially hidden. If so, press Search in the right corner to open it.

    To broaden your search, you can change things that might be too specific, such as the exact year. Increasing the date range for a particular event can be an effective way. You can also try selecting Birth or Place of residence instead of Any in the Life Event section. If applicable, use the "Name Option" line to enter your maiden name, alias, or other spelling of the first name. Then press Search .

    If you still can't find the person you want after editing your search, that person may not have been added to Family Tree. In this case, you can add this person yourself.

    To add a person to the Tree, you will need their name, and then you can enter as much additional information about them as possible, such as where the person was born or where they lived.

    Hint: If you are missing information about your ancestor, try to find it in the historical record, for example, in a birth certificate, marriage certificate, military card or death certificate.

    Using the "Settings" option to customize your search results

    Experienced researchers will certainly appreciate the functionality of the "Settings" section that appears at the top of the search results page. In Preferences, you can make important decisions about formatting and exporting search results.

    For example, the first option in the "Settings" section is the choice of displaying search results as a data page or as a fixed table: data page. The format makes it easy to scroll through and find matching results.

    In contrast, with a fixed table, we can analyze a small subset of the search results that we think are promising and see how they match what we knew about the person.

    Next in the Preferences panel is the Language Options section. Here you can choose to view the information as it was originally entered into FamilySearch, or view it with minor edits, which we call "translations," to make it easier to read. A simple example would be "January 1855" which, if refined or translated, would be "January 1855".

    Last but not least in the Preferences panel is the option to download search results to your computer. Perhaps you have your own methods of accounting and filtering information. If yes, then you can download the information in any of the following file formats: XLS, XLSX, CSV, ODS, TSV and ODS.

    Find your ancestors in FamilySearch Family Tree!

    Ready to learn something new about your ancestors? There is room for everyone in our Family Tree. We want everyone to help in its creation!

    Select a deceased ancestor and see if their name is among the 1.2 billion names in the FamilySearch Family Tree! Find a person's profile and enjoy stories, photos, timelines and more about them. Then think about what you know about this person and what you can add to their profile. Perhaps one of the relatives will thank you in the future!

    How to make a genealogical tree of family and clan

    How to keep the memory of the past of your family? Collecting old photographs and yellowed letters in boxes on the mezzanine is not the best option: in a couple of generations, your descendants will hardly guess who these smiling people from black and white cards are. How about translating that memory into something meaningful, like a real family tree? Its creation will be an exciting quest for the whole family, and in the process of immersing yourself in your own story, incredible discoveries can await you all.

    Building a family tree is not easy, but interesting. To do this, you will have to conduct a comprehensive study, collect all the data and photographs, and then try to create a family tree with your own hands from all this.

    In our article you will find not only tips for finding information about ancestors, but also various tree design options. We have also prepared for you two templates for filling in the family tree - for children and for adults.

    How to make a family tree with your own hands

    Where to start

    Before you begin, you must determine for yourself why all this is needed. Are you in the mood for deep exploration, or is your goal just to share stories about your parents and grandparents with your children?

    A well-defined goal will help you achieve the final result faster.

    Think of a plan, break it down into small steps so you can easily track progress. And this will add to your motivation not to give up halfway through - believe me, you will need it.

    Finding information about relatives

    Once you've decided how far you want to go, the most interesting step is gathering information about relatives and distant ancestors. You will surely learn many funny and touching stories and find some distant relatives living on the other side of the world. Or maybe even reveal a family secret - who knows? To find as much information as possible and understand how to make a family tree of a family, use the following methods:

    • Questioning relatives

    Start your search by interviewing your next of kin. Organize family tea gatherings with grandparents - they will be happy to share valuable memories. Arrange a video conference with those who live in other cities and countries, or just write to them on social networks.

    • Family archive analysis

    Carefully study all documents, letters and diaries that have been preserved in your family. In birth, marriage and death certificates, passports, employment records and diplomas, you will find answers to key questions that are important for the pedigree. These records will help restore information that loved ones could not remember. Look through old photographs: perhaps the grandmother forgot to tell about her second cousin. Already at this stage, you can choose photo cards for your family tree.

    • Internet searches

    Browse various genealogy websites and related resources for historical information. For example, the website "Feat of the People" provides open access to archival documents about the exploits and awards of all soldiers of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

    Register on several thematic forums. For example, on the All-Russian Genealogical Tree forum, it is possible to search for a specific person by last name, regions and countries.

    Try to find distant relatives of your generation on Odnoklassniki or VKontakte. But do not forget that in a correct genealogical research, any information must be confirmed by archival certificates.

    • Collection of information in registry offices and archives

    If you are looking for information about marriage, dates of birth or death, please contact the registry office. If a relative has something to do with the army - for example, is a veteran of the Second World War - make a request to the military registration and enlistment office at the place of residence, service or conscription. But keep in mind: in order to obtain documents of deceased relatives, you must prove your relationship with them, providing, among other things, your birth certificate.

    Don't hope for a quick result when searching for genealogy in archives. The process can take months or even years. But the information you find can greatly advance your research.

    • Contacting specialists

    If you do not want to spend time building a family tree, contact the professionals. Archives staff, designers, and specialty companies will help you find the information you need and create a family tree. In addition, with their help you can create a family tree book, a film presentation and even a family coat of arms.

    What are the types of a family tree

    There are several methods for compiling a tree.

    • Descending tree

    The family scheme is formed from an ancestor to descendants. This design method allows you to visually trace the history of the family from distant times to the present day.

    • Pedigree

    Compiled from a person to his ancestors. Such a structure will be especially convenient for those who have not yet completed the search for information and are consistently moving from the known to the unknown.

    • Round table

    It is built in a circle, in the center of which one of the children is placed. The second, outer, circle is divided in half and the data of the mother and father are recorded in it. In the third circle, cut into four parts, grandparents are indicated. Then a fourth circle is added, which is divided into eight parts, and so on. This type of tree is quite rare. But this scheme is the most compact.

    How to arrange a family tree

    • Family tree on computer

    Programs for creating a family tree will help you save time and get guaranteed results. Use the MyHeritage online service or GenoPro, Family Tree Builder or Tree of Life software. Choose a template, enter your pedigree data and enjoy the result.

    You can also find or draw an empty tree yourself in a graphics editor.

    • DIY family tree

    Get creative with your family tree results. We have selected a few examples for you to inspire.

    Family box

    For each ancestor, a box is wound up or one cell is allocated, in which documents, photos, objects are placed. By opening such a box, you can touch the past and find out what kind of person your ancestor was.

    Family tree made from local materials

    This design option is perfect for a kindergarten or school project.

    Family tree in album

    Decorative stand with photo frames

    How to work with the family tree template

    We have prepared two templates that both children and adults will love.

    Open Tree Template for Adults

    Open Tree Template for Children

    Templates can be used both electronically and in print.

    • Print out a blank template and include drawings or photographs of yourself and your ancestors.
    • Use a photo editor and paste the scanned images into a template. Print the result.

    Filling out a template in Picverse Photo Editor

    In Picverse Photo Editor you can not only edit pictures and insert them into a template, but also restore old photos.

    Check out our sample of filling out the template - it will be easier for you to figure out how to draw up a family tree correctly.

    Learn more