Genealogical Charts (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Descendancy Chart[edit | edit source]

A Descendancy Chart shows a couple and their descendants, as far as is known, or as are chosen to be displayed. Older texts may refer to these as Descent Type Pedigree Charts, which is an oxymoron as the term pedigree refers to the blood-line ancestors.

All Descendancy Charts have to be custom made because every family is different, unlike pedigree charts wherein everyone has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and so forth. There are really two types, computer-generated lists and artistic efforts. The first two types described below are very economical of space, each generation being indented from the previous one, but they are rather stodgy to read, especially for non-genealogists.

Computer Format[edit | edit source]

These usually only include names and dates of birth and death. All those of the same generation have same number, as seen below, but they will be in order of birth.

Narrative Format or Paragraph Pedigree[edit | edit source]

You will meet this form in older works, especially peerages and it is half-way to a family history. There are different kinds of numbers and letters used for different generations, and you may get all the boys first then the girls because it was important to identify inheritance of titles and so on. It may include small or large amounts of biographical detail for all or only the more prominent members of the family. Their advantage is that they show lots of detail, but the disadvantage is that it is very cumbersome to find relationships amongst the family. Not for the faint hearted. A British example is given in Chart 72; American styles, such as those of the NEHGS (New England Historic Genealogical Society) and NGSQ (National Genealogical Society Quarterly) differ in details.

Sun Charts[edit | edit source]

These are reverse adaptations of the circular pedigree, having the common progenitor couple as the central hub and radiating out with later generations. A great advantage is that one can keep adding to the rim! Sun charts are great pictorial aids, but cannot hold much detail. Note that in the past the terms Wheel and Half-Wheel have been used to describe any circular chart, whether a pedigree chart or a descendant chart.

Decorative Descent Charts[edit | edit source]

These can start with one set of great grandparents at the top of the tree with descendants on progressively lower branches, or starting at the base of the trunk with the descendants working upwards. As each family is different such charts would be customized for the family concerned. No pre-printed off-the-shelf masters would be available.

Descendants of Charles Rogers

Descendants of Charles Rogers.jpg

Narrative Descent of Spencer Family

The 7th Earl Spencer (Albert Edward John SPENCER T.D.), Viscount Althorp, Viscount Spencer, Baron Spencer, of Althorp, co. Northampton, all in the Peerage of Great Britain, and Viscount Althorp of Great Brington, co. Northampton, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, D.L. (1935), J.P. (1916), and C.A. Northants, Lord Lieut. and Custos Rotulorum 1952-67. Educ. Harrow and Trin. Coll. Camb. (B.A. 1913, M.A. 1946). F.R.S.A. (1953), F.S.A., Capt. Late 1st Life Guards, hon Col. 4th Bn. Northamptonshire Regt. (T.A.) 1924-37, hon. Col. Northamptonshire A.A. Regt. (R.A.) T.A.) 1937-61, hon. Col. 4/5th Northamptonshire Regt (T.A.) 1971-67, served in World War I 1914-19 (wounded), A.D.C. Personal Staff 1917-19, Pres. Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire Territorial Force Assoc., mem. of Church Assembly (House of Laity) 1930-35, a Trustee of the Wallace Collection 1945-66 etc. etc. b. 23 May 1892 (for whom H.M. King Edward VII was sponsor), succeeded his father as 7th Earl 1922, m. 26 Feb 1919 Lady Cynthia Elinor Beatrix Hamilton D.C.V.O. (1953), O.B.E. (1943), Lady of the Bedchamber to H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, 2nd dau. Of 3rd Duke of Abercorn, K.G., K.P., and has issue,
+Edward John, Viscount Althorp, M.V.O. (1954), D.L. (1961), C.C. Northants, High Sheriff of Northants. 1959, Capt. (ret.) The Royal Scots Greys, served in World War II 1944-45 (despatches), A.D.C. to Gov. of S. Australia 1947-50, Equerry (temp.) TO H.M. KING GEORGE VI, 1950-52, and to H.M. QUEEN ELIZABETH II 1952-54, hon. Col. Northamptonshire Regt. (T.A.), Chm. Nat. Assoc. of Boys’ Clubs (Althorp, Northampton; 107 Eaton Square, London S.W.1; Turf, Brooks’s, Farmers’ and Overseas Clubs, and M.C.C.), b. 24 Jan 1924 (for whom H.M. QUEEN MARY and H.R.H. THE DUKE OF WINDSOR were sponsors), educ. Eton, R.M.C. Sandhurst, and Royal Agric. Coll. Cirencester. m. 1 June 1954 (m. diss. by div. 1969), Hon Frances Ruth Burke Roche, younger dau. Of 4th Baron Fermoy, and has had issue,
1. John, b. and d. 12 Jan 1960.
2.+Charles Edward Maurice (for whom H.M. THE QUEEN was sponsor), b. 20 May 1964.
1. Elizabeth Sarah Lavinia (for whom H.M. QHEEN ELIZABETH THE QUEEN MOTHER was sponsor), b.19 Mar 1955, educ. West Heath.
2. Cynthia Jane (for whom H.R.H. THE DUKE OF KENT was sponsor), b. 11 Feb 1957, educ. West Heath.
3. Diana Frances, b. 1 July 1961, educ. Riddlesworth Hall.
Anne, served in World War II, as 3rd Offr. W.R.N.S., b. 4 Aug 1920, m. 10 Feb 1944, Capt. Christopher Baldwin Hughes Wake-Walker, R.N., son of late Sir Frederic Wake-Walker, K.C.B., C.B.E., of East Bergholt Lodge, Suffolk (see WALKER of Oakley House, B'.), and has issue.

Family Tree or Drop-Line Chart[edit | edit source]

A kind of Descendancy Chart, the Drop-Line Chart is probably the most easily understood representation of the relationships amongst several generations of a family. However, as you amass more and more relations, careful consideration will have to be given to the amount of data displayed so that the whole chart does not become unwieldy and you literally lose sight of the forest for the trees.

It makes sense to limit the tree to those bearing one surname, i.e. the descendants of one couple and their sons, with the occasional addition of an illegitimate child of a daughter! You may wish to include full names and all six facts (dates and places of birth, marriage and death) or just names. A good compromise to improve compactness is to include only the years of birth and death with each name. Do you want to show all descendants or only those bearing the family name? Cutting out descendants of the married daughters can greatly assist compactness and focuses on the main family surname. The daughters’ descendants are, after all, included on their husbands’ trees. The choice of who you want to include and how much data to display is yours.

Family Trees may be written on large sheets of paper, Those with skills in calligraphy can show off their talents, and the artistically-inclined can add portraits, small illustrations or borders.

Computer genealogy software programs produce many varieties of drop-line charts, and boxes around individuals or various borders can be added.

Two examples are given below, one a typed tree with ‘all the facts’ and with accompanying notes on the various conventional symbols, the other a computer-produced tree limited to names and birth/death years.

The aim is to produce clarity in displaying the whole family at a glance. Details can be left for the other reports such as Family Group Records to which the reader has access.

A very successful technique is to limit each page to three or four generations, then bud off those from the bottom generation as heads of their own trees on separate pages. Computer programs do this wonderfully well, as well as accommodating newly-found branches without having to scrunch it into, or cut up, your previous handwritten or typed masterpiece.

Family Tree/ (Drop-Line Chart) of a Typical but Fictitious Family

Family Tree of Fictitious Family.jpg

Notes To Accompany Chart (above)
Family Tree (Drop Line Chart) of a Typical but Fictitious Family

  • One generation per horizontal line i.e. siblings and their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. cousins all occupy one horizontal space. Their parents, uncles and aunts occupy the horizontal space above; their children, nephews and nieces the horizontal line below them, and so on.
  • Siblings, in order of birth from left to right, are joined by a horizontal line e.g. Nicholas, John and Richard WOOD; possible siblings are joined by a dashed horizontal line e.g. at top of page, Thomas and Charles WOOD.
  • Vertical (or drop) lines join the 2 parents to their children; this can be ‘jogged’ to fit the space available e.g. Nicholas WOOD b.1893. Do not use angled lines.
  • Standard abbreviations:
b. = born bur. = buried c. = christened
d. = died dau = daughter k. = killed
m. = married
  • SURNAMES are capitalized.
  • Dates given as day/month (standard 3-letter abbreviation)/year.
  • Place given as parish/county.
  • Occupations are given after the surname, separated by a comma.
  • Marriages can be indicated in various ways. There are two kinds used here:
- For direct ancestors (to allow more information to be shown for all ancestors.) The wife is given a place on the sibling line, and joined to her husband by =========, (but not to his parents of course!) If the marriage date and place are put under her name this allows two marriages to be shown clearly, and numbered 1 and 2 above the ===== e.g. Thomas WOOD b.1851. The wife’s father/parents’ names can be given after a comma after her name. The children’s connecting vertical line descends from the middle of their ========= .
- For ancestors’ siblings. Only the name of the spouse is shown, below the marriage date and place e.g. Susan WOOD b.1881. The children’s connecting vertical line descends from under the death date e.g. Nicholas WOOD b. 1823.
  • If children’s names are not known, or if space is insufficient, then the children of ancestors’ siblings can be shown simply as:
  • “Issue” descending from a vertical line e.g. Nicholas WOOD b. 1823 or
  • A descending arrow e.g. John WOOD b.1879.
  • Illegitimacy is indicated by a wavy descending line e.g. Charlotte WOOD’s son Robert. If the father’s name is known this can be inserted at the side of the wavy line. Adopted children are indicated by a zigzag line. When parentage is unsure, a broken line may be used.

Family Tree (Drop-Line Chart) of Gardner Family

Family Tree of Gardner Family.jpg


Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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