We at RLM love family trees and encourage our clients to consider using them, especially in family histories. They offer an easy-to-read visual of complex relationships, and the process of creating one can reveal patterns that usually go unnoticed. This week, we’re sharing the most important questions to ask before you embark (puns! sorry!) on a family tree project.
What’s the scope of my project?
Without limits, the process of designing a family tree might feel overwhelming. Tools like Ancestry and 23andMe are fascinating—but these sites can make the hunt for information addictive—and endless. While serious genealogists might want to trace a family line as far as possible, that strategy can turn your book project into a neverending rabbit hole!
To combat “mission creep,” consider putting limits—even arbitrary ones—on your family tree before you start. We often encourage our clients to cap the scope of their family tree, usually by suggesting that it cover only the generations or branches (More puns! Still sorry!) mentioned in their books. Tightening your focus allows you to deepen your understanding of the main characters, rather than acquiring a more shallow awareness of every possible cast member.
What should I include (or leave out)?
There’s no right or wrong in family trees—there’s only what’s right for your family. Think about what will make it most meaningful. For instance, listing birthplaces for an immigrant family will be much more revealing than for a family whose members were all born in the same city.
What if you don’t have all the information? If finding exact birth and death dates is a bureaucratic nightmare, then leave them out! Can’t figure out a spouse’s maiden name? Admit that some mysteries will need to be solved by future generations (or professional genealogists). Missing details don’t mean missing ancestors—they just mean that your family tree will be perfectly imperfect.
Who’s my audience?
We ask this question a lot, because it drives every project! Part of “good” design is considering who will be using the material and how.
If you want to create a gorgeous, framed family tree as a gift for parents or family elders (a fantastic idea, by the way!), then go the extra mile and consult with a personal historian, artist, and/or design specialist. Creatively incorporating color, artwork, and photos will make your project engaging and distinctive.
On the other hand, if your plans are more utilitarian—say you just want to update your favorite cousins from time to time—then it would be better to keep things simple and use Google Docs or a simple PDF that can be opened on any computer.
Still stumped? (Last pun, we promise!) We at RLM have years of experience. We also have tons of knowledgeable colleagues, many of whom specialize in genealogy and family tree design—so drop us a line and we’ll help you think through all your options!