How to Build a Family Tree: Tips on Birth Certificates

Do you have a younger family member asking for an ancestor’s vital records, or perhaps asking questions about your parents and grandparents? They may be researching family history in order to create a family tree.

Or maybe you are the one tracing back your ancestry to create your own family tree chart.

Regardless of the branch you are perched on, let us first quickly answer the following question.

What is a Family Tree?

A family tree is a common form of visually documenting an individual’s ancestry.

Modern family tree charts are created using a computer diagram made with simple software such as Microsoft Word®, or more specialized family tree maker programs or apps.

Certain types of family ancestry or genealogy programs allow you to build your family tree without paying, while others like, Findmypast or My Heritage require a fee.

Traditional family trees range from beautiful framed diagrams in exquisite calligraphy that are passed down from generation to generation, to a collection of names and lines quickly jotted down on a simple sheet of paper.

Whether you’re going for a digital family tree or a handwritten one, you will need to decide about the range of information you would like to include in it. This can be useful if you were switched at birth and you are looking for your genealogy

What Information to Include in a Family Tree

Regardless of the tools you use to build a family tree, most formats include a box —or branch— featuring each family member’s name.

Every name is then connected by a line with the others to indicate relationships between the members of the same family.

Depending on the position in relation to other members, the reader needs to be able to deduce whether 2 family members are:

  • Parent and child
  • Siblings
  • Spouses
  • Cousins, etc.

Most family trees include the following information for each family member:

  • Name
  • Birthplace
  • Date of birth, marriage, and/or death
  • Other information the family may consider relevant

The information on a family tree should be organized in such a way that the reader can quickly visualize multiple generations at a glance.

Family trees can be drawn vertically —with older ancestors above younger ones— or horizontally.

All of this begs the question: Where do I get started?

Read more: What information is on a birth certificate?

How to Get Started Creating a Family Tree

The first place to look for information to get started on your family tree is perhaps your older relatives’ living room.

Spending time interviewing family members —whether you take notes, pictures, or make a video or voice recording of your conversation— can help get you on the right track. On the other hand, these recorded interview will make precious memories for generations to come.

Going through old documents such as birth certificates and other vital records, or family photo albums, can help you put the pieces together.

You may want to photograph or scan these documents if you wish to keep a record of where you found each bit of information.

Read more: Return of a Birth

Tips When Creating a Family Tree

Will you build an electronic family tree or draw it by hand? Should you choose the latter, make sure to use a pen with archival ink so it does not fade and younger generations can carry on building the tree for years to come.

How much detail do you wish to include in the family tree? This will help determine the amount of family research you will need to do.

Some family documents that can give you clues while building your family tree include the following:

  • Baptismal or other religious records
  • Birth certificates
  • Burial records and obituaries
  • Death certificates
  • Graduation records
  • Marriage or divorce certificates
  • Military and occupational records
  • Newspaper articles
  • Old family letters
  • Photographs and memorabilia
  • Social activity mementos
  • Sports awards
  • Yearbooks

Some places where you may find information to use while making your family tree include the local library and online mining genealogy websites.

If you do not find birth certificates tucked away in a drawer at your relatives’ homes, you can order a birth certificate replacement online for direct relatives. This includes parents, grandparents, a spouse or domestic partner, as well as siblings.

Doing so can help you discover the names of older relatives. Birth certificates of individuals born more than 100 years ago are considered public records. You will find our article on how to obtain public vital records particularly useful for this purpose.

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