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How to Start Your Family Tree With a Pedigree Chart

Updated on July 26, 2017

How to Begin With a Pedigree Chart

Families come in every variety imaginable. Like a real tree, no two will be alike. Your tree will be as unique as you are. For nearly 20 years, I've been building my family tree. There are branches and forks that go just a couple of generations back and then there are some that go back multiple generations, but it all started with me and a curiosity as to where I came from.

It's easy to become overwhelmed and get off on a tangent when building a family tree because of the vast information you'll come across. I will show you how to stay focused on one area at a time so you can build the best and most accurate tree that tells your family story. So roll up your sleeves and lets begin!

Pedigree Chart

Pedigree Chart
Pedigree Chart

Developing a Pedigree Chart

The easiest way to begin putting together a family tree is to start with a pedigree chart, like the one shown. The difference between the family tree and the pedigree chart is that the pedigree chart is generally a direct lineage chart that shows only your parents, grandparents, great grand parents, etc. No siblings, aunts, cousins, or Grandpa's brother Bob. If you go back just 4 generations from yourself, you're already dealing with 30 relatives in your direct line.

You can start with any individual you like, but for this lesson, we'll build YOUR pedigree chart by listing yourself on the line that is sitting all by itself. Your parents go to the left, their parents to the left of them, and so on. To keep things standard, I put all fathers on the top line and the mothers below. When you finish, the very top row will usually have your last name across every line. You'll have multiple last names on the rest. Now like I said, every tree is different and this may not always be the case. For instance, if you were adopted and took another name or somewhere along the line your name was changed, either in spelling or in whole, as mine was over time.

A simple pedigree chart only lists the names of your relatives, but you can add any detail you please, such as birth, death, and marriage dates. When you start tracking names (which I'll show you how to develop a useful spread sheet in another article), you'll be amazed at how many individuals in the same family have identical names! Having the birth dates, death dates, and so on, will make it easier to identify "John Smith" from "John Smith Jr."

So, if you manage to fill this out, you're already tracking 30 relatives! Now throw in your aunts and uncles, your cousins, your grandparents siblings and so on, and suddenly, it seems you're related to the world! Now remember, this first pedigree chart is for your direct lineage. As in my case, my grandfather was married twice and had children with his first wife. They are an important part of my family tree, but don't fall into MY pedigree. I made a separate pedigree chart for his first family that looks much different than my original.

Where Do I Look for Grandpa?

OK. So now you have an idea of how to build a pedigree chart for your lineage. But lets say you don't know much about your grandparents. How do I find who they were?

  1. There are all kinds of online sites, such as Ancestry.com or Genealogy Bank, that have millions of documents available, if you know how to look for them. If you know just a few bits of information like a name, where they lived, or what they did for a living, many times, that's enough information to find who you're looking for.
  2. Census reviews have a lot of information on individuals and some sites will allow you to review them without a subscription. You'll find names, family members, street addresses, occupations, age, and a lot of other information that will help you to build the puzzle of your family tree.
  3. Many libraries have history centers with subscriptions to web sites with more access than just the census', as well.(The available U.S census' are from 1940 and back to the late 1700's. Census' are not available after that. There is a period of 70 years from the time the census' were taken and when they become available to the public).
  4. Family is by far the best source and 99 times out of 100, much more accurate than "official documents". (Lot's of lessons learned there. I'll share that with you in another article). Family bibles are another source of information, provided someone took the time to fill them out.
  5. Newspapers, obituaries, court records, and cemeteries are all great places to gather information on those you're searching for. I'll go into detail in another article about how to search these places so you're not just hunting and pecking your way through a million documents.

Typical Federal Census From 1940

Typical Federal Census from 1940
Typical Federal Census from 1940

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