What Does a Family Tree Look Like?

Updated July 19, 2017

Everyone has a family tree, because everyone has ancestors. A family tree is both a figurative and a written representation of your ancestors and relatives: your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. The illustration is called a family tree because when charted out on paper, the graph you create resembles a tree with many branches. It permits you to have a concrete understanding of who you are and where you came from. There are many different types of family trees, depending both on the information you have and what you want to display. Family trees also come in many sizes, depending on the size of your family. If you have a small family, you will have a small family tree. You will need to research your family before constructing a family tree.


Everyone has a family, even if you don't know all the members. Consequently, everyone should know what a family tree looks like. Having a family tree, especially one that is illustrated on paper, gives you a better understanding of who you are and who your ancestors were.


A family tree can be two different, but similar, things. First, a family tree can be something figurative--a picture you have in your head of your family. Most likely, you can easily name your parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. You know who your immediate family is and where they are from. This is your family tree regarding how you stand in relation to the rest of your family.

Second, a family tree, in the more common and practical sense of the term, can also be a written interpretation of your family. In this way, a family tree resembles a graph that lists all the members of your family starting with you and moving chronologically backward.


A family tree is most commonly displayed on what is called a pedigree chart. A pedigree chart lists the names, dates and locations of birth and death of your immediate ancestors. For example, you would list your name along with your date and location of birth. You would then list the names and applicable dates and locations of your parents, your grandparents, and so on until you have entered all the information you know about your family.

There are family trees that also list other family members, such as siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and step-families. This type of family tree does not use a pedigree chart and instead is often laid out freehand on a large piece of paper or on a spreadsheet.

You may also list other information about your relatives concerning religious practices, education, occupation and military service. The options are really endless, because your family tree is essentially a record of your family in its entirety, and no two families are the same.


Family trees, just like families, come in various shapes and sizes. The size of your family tree depends on the size of your family. If your family is rather small or you know little about the members of your family, your family tree may only take up one written page. However if your family is large, it can take up multiple pages of paper or an entire large poster board.

Some families, who have centuries' worth of knowledge about their ancestors, are able to make family trees that take up entire walls or entire books.


In order to effectively make a family tree, you need the information that will go into it. If you do not know the facts and details regarding the lives of your family members, you will not be able to create a family tree on paper. There are many ways to find information about your family, including censuses and vital records, city directories and cemetery documents. Also, do not overlook the information that living family members may be able to provide you.

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About the Author

A lifelong resident of Ohio, Joni L. Koneval has been writing professionally since 2009. She specializes in education, reference and history-related topics that have been published by eHow. Koneval holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and political science from Youngstown State University, and is studying for a Master of Arts in history.