How to draw a family tree step-by-step

Updated April 17, 2017

Genealogy, the study of the lineage of families, has become a popular past-time. People have begun to research their own family history, going back three or more generations. Drawing your own family tree is quite simple.The key to a successful and useful family tree is to collect the relevant information from and about your relatives, from which you create a diagram resembling a tree with many branches.

Make a list of your family members. Decide how many generations you want to include. Three is a good start -- these will be your grandparents (both sets), your parents and aunts and uncles, and your generation -- yourself, your brothers and sisters and your cousins.

Find out information about these family members by talking to them or by looking at their birth, marriage and death certificates. Verify this information from as many sources as possible.

Write down each family member's full name, any nickname and their date of birth. If someone is no longer alive, then write down also the date of his death. Find out also the date that a couple was married.

Turn a piece of graph paper sideways and about one-fourth of the way across the page at the top, draw a circle for one of your grandmothers and a square for your grandfather. Write their names inside the shapes and underneath write the date of their births and deaths, if applicable. Use a pencil for this as you may need to erase and move entries.

Draw an "=" between the shapes to show that they were married or in a long-term relationship, and write the date of their marriage underneath this.

Repeat this for your other set of grandparents, starting about one-fourth of the way into the page from the right-hand side.

Draw a line down from the equals sign, and then draw a horizontal line. From this horizontal line, draw a vertical line down for each child that your grandparents had.

Draw a square for a male child or a circle for a female child at the end of each line. Write the name of your parent's generations relatives in the shapes. Your mother's name will be under one set and your father's name under the other, along with their siblings. Start with the oldest child in each family, and go in descending age order. Leave space between the shapes to add the person's partner. Underneath each shape, write the date of birth and death, if applicable. Keep all the shapes for this generation on the same horizontal line.

Draw in the appropriate shapes for the partners of the people in this generation, using an "=" to represent marriage or long-term commitment. Write the date of the marriage or the start of the relationship under the "=." If the marriage has ended in divorce, then write the date of this also. If anyone has been married more than once, then write the partners and dates of the subsequent marriages or relationships, under each other, with the most recent being at the bottom.

Identify the children of your parent's generation relatives -- your siblings and cousins -- and create a new level of the diagram for them. Use circles and squares to identify the gender of each person, and draw in the marriage and relationship signs and dates as well.

Expand the family tree by including any children that you have. This will add a fourth level to the tree. If you have grandchildren, including them will add yet another layer of information.

Once the family tree is complete as a draft, and you know how much space to leave and how to arrange everyone, redraw the tree using heavy paper and a black marker.


You can expand the family tree by investigating your grandparent's siblings and their children, adding information about second- and once-removed cousins to the diagram. It's up to you how broad you make your family tree diagram. You can include any other information that is of interest to your family. Perhaps include where people were born, or where they lived, or where they went to school.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Graph paper
  • Heavy paper
  • Black marker
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About the Author

Christina Ash has been writing since 1982, throughout her career as a computer consultant, anthropologist and small-business owner. She has published work in various business, technology, academia and popular books and journals. Ash has degrees in computer science, anthropology and science and technology studies from universities in England, Canada and the United States.