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How to Help Your Child Make a Family Tree

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 28, 2022

Family trees are a fantastic way to introduce your children to their ancestry and the story of their family. They’re also very helpful for tracking health problems over the course of generations. 

There is no definitive way to make a family tree. When you create a family tree, you can be as creative or informative as you want. You can tailor it to a particular project, keep it for your child’s health history, or maintain it as an ever-expanding repository for facts about your family. 

Family trees can be fun family projects that — if tailored properly — are appropriate for any age. 

What Kind of Tree Should You Make?

Family trees can come in any number of shapes and sizes. You and your child should pick the design that works best for your needs. 

The two main types of trees are ones that track your family’s personal history — or genealogy — and ones that track your family’s medical history. Genealogical family trees can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but medical histories use formal symbols and structures. 

Your child could benefit from the detailed rigor involved in creating a family medical record, but this tree type should be saved for older kids. Genealogical trees are more flexible and fun for all ages. 

There are plenty of structures to choose from when creating a genealogical tree with your child. Some family tree ideas for kids include: 

  • Creating actual trees from construction paper where each leaf is a person — this can be a fun project for younger children 
  • Drawing a tree with crayons or colored pencils
  • Creating a shape that’s more like a pedigree, with one shape for people and some means of connecting them in familial patterns — like lines
  • Printing a pre-designed template from the internet and filling it in, though this will limit how large you can make it
  • Finding a computer program that can help you digitally create your tree 

Materials that you might need include: 

  • Construction paper
  • Large sheets of paper — preferably paper on a roll so you can make your tree as big as you need to
  • Crayons, colored pencils, or markers
  • Scissors
  • Tape 
  • Glue

What Family Tree Information Should You Include?

The next big step is to decide what kind of information you want to include on your family tree. This is a matter of personal preference. The most basic family tree only needs to include the names of your child’s relatives.  

Other information that you could add includes: 

  • Photos of your family members
  • Important dates — like births, deaths, marriages, and even important world events
  • Fun facts about family members — like their favorite foods or favorite colors
  • Informative facts about family members — like awards and other accomplishments 

For a medical history, you’ll want to include as much health information as possible for everyone. Examples include: 

  • Height and weight
  • Health habits — smoking, drinking, and exercise routines
  • Medical problems and the date of their diagnosis
  • Their birthplace and the region of the world where their ancestors came from

There’s a good chance that you and your child won’t know all of this information. It can be fun to contact your family members and have your child interview them about details like their favorite foods and colors. Talking about health information, though, can be a difficult topic. Always approach this with sensitivity in mind. 

If you’re constructing a medical history, though, it’s probably to determine your child’s inherited health issues. Family members will hopefully be understanding and open about their medical histories.  

Should the Tree Be Ascending or Descending?

Next, you’ll need to decide if you want the tree to be ascending or descending. 

Ascending trees start with your child at the bottom and work backward through the generations from there. These are easier for young children to understand because all of the relationships are centered around them. 

Descending trees start with the oldest generation that you plan on including. Then, you move down to the present. 

The style you choose is ultimately based on personal preference — though most medical trees have a descending style. 

What Generations Should You Include?

You also need to decide how many generations to include. Again, how far back you go in your family history is a personal choice — but health records are the most useful when they include at least three generations of information. If you have a large family, though, you might want to limit how many generations you include simply to save space. 

Other cut-off points can include:

  • Important family events — like migrating to America
  • A particular year
  • As far back as your known family history goes

What Are the Formal Symbols for a Pedigree?

You can use whatever creative symbols that you want when making a genealogical tree. When you are making a medical tree, there are formalized structures that you need to follow so anyone can read them. 

Family health records can help geneticists and other medical professionals track disease through your family and calculate the odds of your child developing a particular condition, so it’s important to construct this type of tree properly. 

There are formal structures for all kinds of relationships and states that you can visually represent in a tree. Examples of symbols to use include: 

  • Squares for males
  • Circles for females
  • Diagonal lines for deceased individuals
  • Filled-in shapes for people with a particular condition
  • Half-filled shapes if the family member is a known carrier for a particular condition but doesn’t have it themselves
  • A “P” inside the shape for a pregnant individual
  • Dashed lines and brackets around the square or circle for an adopted individual  

How to Make a Family Tree for Kids or Adults

Once you’ve decided on all of the details that will make up your tree, the final step is to make it. In general, you’ll want to keep every generation on its own horizontal line, and distinct branches should align vertically. 

For more formal trees — like medical trees — you should follow these steps to draw the most accurate tree: 

  • Start with yourself at the bottom of the page — represented as either a square or circle depending on your gender
  • Place your siblings in a horizontal line around you 
  • Draw short, vertical lines — called individual lines — coming up from yourself and your siblings’ shapes
  • Connect all of these individual lines with a long horizontal sibship (sibling relationship) line
  • Draw shapes for your parents in their own horizontal space above your sibship line
  • Connect your parents with a short horizontal line and drop a vertical line down to your sibship line — you can also create additional lines if either parent has re-married and add connections to distinguish sibship lines for half-siblings who share one of your parents
  • Add in your parents’ siblings in the same horizontal space that they are and include their partners and children in a similar manner — any cousins should be on the same horizontal line as you and your siblings
  • Add individual lines to your parents, aunts, and uncles and connect them with their own sibship lines
  • Add your grandparents in the horizontal space above your parents and fill in their siblings and the rest of the descending generations in the same manner as you did for your parents, aunts, and uncles
  • Continue to follow this pattern for as many generations as you can 

For less formal trees, you should draw them in a way that’s both informative and pleasing to you and your child. Save your tree and add to it as your family grows or when you learn new information about your ancestors. 

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Horizon Charter Schools: “Learning Project: Family Tree.” 

MI Genetics Resource Center: “Genetic Inheritance Patterns.” 

National Archives: “Geneology Activities for Kids!” 

Science Buddies: “Drawing Your Family Tree.” 

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