Family Time & Family Trees
Updated: May 7, 2020
When you max out on board games, reading, and TV, here’s another idea: work on your family tree. This is a fun activity for both adults and children, that can be done by hand or online. Best of all, you can get a lot done for free.
Where to start your family tree?
It doesn’t matter how high tech you want to be. With family trees and genealogy research, you almost always start with yourself. If you’re doing this with children who want to draw the tree, start with a big piece of paper. Near the bottom middle of the page, they should draw a box with their name in it. The tree grows upwards from there. If you’re doing this online, the website will do it for you.
Once you (or your child) have your own name down, draw lines and boxes to add your parents. Then add their parents, and so on until you don’t know more, or run out of room. (And don’t feel bad if you can’t remember both your grandmoms' maiden names. Not many can!)
What do you do with siblings, aunts and uncles? I generally only add siblings for the youngest generation in the tree when I do it by hand, or it gets too crowded. If you are doing this with younger children, you may want to add your own siblings, so that your kids can see their relationship with their cousins.
What to include?
On a handmade tree, you can include anything you want! So instead of just putting “Peter Smith 1910-1985) you can put more information, like where he was born and died. You can also add what he did for a living, or if there was anything special to know about him.
Kids may enjoy drawing little flags next to peoples’ names to indicate their country of origin (which is also great opportunity to spend some time looking at international flags). If you have enough room, why not cut out photos of family members to put in the tree too?
If you want to be a little more structured, just do a quick internet search for “family tree template.” There is an endless set of images that you can print and use.
If you’re using a genealogy web service to build your tree, the website will capture most of this information automatically. Of course, most services allow you to upload documents and photos to add to your tree.
What genealogy website should I use?
There are many online choices when it comes to genealogy research. The fees associated with the paying sites can add up quickly. Happily, several sites are free.
One of the largest free sites is FamilySearch.org. Although it requires users to create an account, it is a totally free service. And as far as I know, it intends to stay that way. FamilySearch has over two billion digitized archives. It is a tremendous tool and a great place to learn. Their wiki is full of useful tips, for beginners and more advanced researchers alike.
There are other free sites, though none so large. Jewishgen.org is a great free resource for anyone researching Jewish ancestry. Another good one is FindAGrave.com, which gives you access to burial information for millions of cemeteries.
Some sites have a freemium model, like MyHeritage.com. This site offers many services for free with other services behind a paywall. MyHeritage is a great place to build an online family tree. Either way, check both MyHeritage and FamilySearch to make sure someone else hasn’t already done a lot of the work for you!
Want to know more about genealogy websites? Here’s a handy genealogy website comparison chart for the four largest sites.
A surprise benefit of making your family tree
Working on your family tree is also a great way to encourage storytelling. Remembering relatives and their lives, or how your life intersected with them, is a happy thing. If you find yourself starting to tell stories about your family, try to remember to hit “record” on your phone so that you can capture the story for your family archives. I promise you will be happy to have these later!
Good luck getting your tree started. At a minimum you can fill an hour of activity time with your kids. But the best case scenario is that you’ll start a research project and plant the seeds of a larger project that will bear fruit generation after generation.