Building a Family Tree – The Basics (Part 1)

Posted on August 9, 2014 by Jennifer Stingley at
Categories: Family Tree Building 101

So you want to build a family tree?  Some people start this journey to find answers to the big question, “Who am I?”, some want to have a visual representation of how everyone is connected for a family reunion or school project, while others are trying to leave something behind for future generations.  Whatever your motivation is, you’ve come to the right place.

Getting Started

Pick a Database

Most people will start by writing down everything they already know about their family.  While this is absolutely a great starting point, you’ll soon find that you have notebooks and binders and loose sheets of papers all over the place, and if you’re like me, you’ll get frustrated with the chaos and give up.

The best way to avoid this is to start a digital database.  This can be as simple as an Excel (or other spreadsheet program) file, or you can find a family tree program that’s made specifically for that purpose.  Personally, I use Family Tree Maker 2014 (approx. $40) – it has many features that I find invaluable, and it syncs directly with my family tree on  There are several great programs out there, ranging from free to expensive, and everywhere in between.  My suggestion would be to try a few (many of the paid options have trial versions or free versions with limited features/capabilities).  Each researcher will have their own preferences for layout, visual appeal, and ease of use, and it is important to pick something that will be a benefit to your research rather than a hindrance.

Start With What You Know

Begin with yourself.  Where were you born?  When?  Have you ever been married?  If so, include your spouse(s), and their information, along with the date and location of your marriage(s), and divorce(s) if applicable.  If you have children, add them, and include their information.

Next, add your parents.  Include all applicable vital facts (birth, death, marriage) with dates and locations, if you know them.  Do the same for your siblings, and their families.

Repeat this process for as many generations as you can (grandparents, and then add aunts, uncles, and cousins, then move out to your great-grandparents, etc.).

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to add more generations to your tree, as we start unraveling your family’s past.

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Please feel free to use this article, in its entirety, in any way you see fit, so long as you include the byline in any copies, and properly cite it if used as research material.

To cite this post:
Jennifer Lynn Stingley, "Building a Family Tree – The Basics (Part 1)," Ancestor Archaeology, 9 August 2014 ( : accessed [22 October 2018]).

One response to “Building a Family Tree – The Basics (Part 1)”

  1. […] we discussed how to start building a family tree.  Once your very basic family tree is done, it’s time for the fun (and sometimes not-so-fun) […]

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