How to make a family tree diagram

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How to make a family tree diagram
There are ways to construct a chart that will help you keep your mass of family information organised. (family tree image by Judy Ben Joud from

Creating a family tree can either be a wonderful exercise to learn about your family history, or an essential task to gather information about a history of illness. This task can get complicated at times, but there are standardised ways of representing your family's history that can immensely help to keep the mass of information in order.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Paper
  • Pen
  • Knowledge of family history

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  1. 1

    Gather as much information as possible about your family and its history. You'll want not only information like name and age, but also marriage and adoption history. Depending on the depth of your graph, you may want to sensitively approach the question of stillbirths or miscarriages. You may want to collect medical information--genetic information, in particular.

  2. 2

    Draw the basic outline of your tree--starting from yourself or the family members you know best--and working your way out. To start, female family members are designated with a circle, and male family members with a square. Individuals of unknown sex--foetuses in the first few trimesters, for example--can be represented with with a diamond. Inside or immediately underneath these figures, include both the name and age of the person represented.

  3. 3

    Denote marriages by a horizontal line connecting two people, although common law marriages and cohabitation can be indicated with two simultaneously horizontal lines. Separations can be indicated with a single slash through that line, and divorces with two slashes. In the case of divorce and remarriage, the slashed line remains, and a fresh horizontal line is created. Deaths are represented with an "X" or a slash through the symbol itself.

  4. 4

    Represent offspring from marriage relationships with a vertical line, descending from the marriage line and arcing out to all the applicable children. Twins can be represented with an inverted "V," descending from the offspring line. If so desired, miscarriages can be represented by a small, filled-in circle; stillbirths or deaths can be represented by a small, slashed circle or square. Adoptions, meanwhile, can be designated with brackets--dashed brackets for children adopted into the family, and whole brackets for children adopted out.

  5. 5

    Include, if desired, genetic information. Many family trees are used to chart the flow of genetic traits through the family, for both education and potential prevention. In this case, individuals affected with a certain genetic trait have their circle or square filled in completely. Carriers for the traits are half-filled, and carriers for X-linked traits are designated with a small black dot in the centre of their figure. Include information for all other illnesses or defects: birth defects, cancer, mental disorders, etc.

Tips and warnings

  • You may want to include a family crest. If your family has no crest that they're aware of, you may want to take the opportunity to create one.
  • Particularly when trying to chart your family's medical history, consult your local health care provider with any questions.

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