Ten Family Tree Display Pitfalls

In another post I explained some of the different ways you can display a family tree. Now let’s talk about some of the problems you might encounter with the different styles of family tree posters and wall art. These are issues which you might particularly want to avoid, or at least consider carefully before committing yourself.

1. Genealogical Accuracy

Many wall display trees are not designed by genealogists, but by artists or programmers. They may show random individuals, such as in name clouds, or scrabble letter displays, or immediate family only, or the tree branches may be arranged for visual effect rather than genealogical accuracy, as in this example.

A genealogically inaccurate family tree

2. Attractiveness

Some trees and charts are rather dull, basic, and even, dare we say it, ugly. They may well be genealogically correct, functional and accurate, but nobody would consider them beautiful enough to display on the wall.

A dull Tudor family tree

3. Editing Names

The name fields in automated trees are often difficult or impossible to edit. A long name like Pablo Picasso’s may be a particular problem. If your grandad’s name is ‘John Joseph George Winterbottom’, it may appear squashed or may be truncated something like this: ‘John Joseph George Wint’. You may want to edit his name yourself to display something entirely different, such as ‘John J G Winterbottom’, ‘Curly Winterbottom’ (his nickname), or even ‘Grandad John’.

Not surprisingly he was just known as Picasso

4. Editing Locations

Automated trees don’t usually allow much flexibility when displaying locations. You will probably want to abbreviate the place name if it is incredibly long, for example, this famous town in Wales. You might also want to change the emphasis to anything from a street to a country. For example, Grandad John’s full address may appear in your family tree as ’10 Any Old Road, Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom’, and you may want to change this into ‘Brighton, England’, or ‘Any Old Road, Brighton’, or just ‘England’, depending on your perspective.

Go on, try it, you know you want to!

5. Displaying Occupations

Trees and charts usually include name, birth, and death data, but they rarely include your ancestors’ occupations. It can be very disappointing, when you’ve done all that painstaking research, not to see your ancestral heritage. It’s great to see patterns emerging at a glance, or to observe your ancestors fortunes changing over time.

Blacksmiths at work

6. Reduced Space

In a conventional fan chart, as you go further back through the generations the space available to display information gets smaller and smaller. You can see this clearly in this example from Masthof. Many charts deal with this problem by omitting information, such as birth and death locations.

Masthof family tree template

7. Displaying Images

You can’t always add your own photographs to your chosen tree or chart. This can be really galling if you’ve gone to the trouble of amassing lots of photographs, and you are eager to see them all displayed together in one place.

My grandfather’s wedding

8. Gigantic All Ancestors

Trees Some ‘all ancestors’ trees are designed to display all of your relations in one giant tree. These trees can be extraordinarily huge, like this 15 page example from Wintree. They can be fantastic for events like family reunions, but although it’s lovely to see everyone from your 5 x great grandmother to your second cousin three times removed at a one-off occasion, inevitably a tree like this is far too big for everyday display. It would go round the living room twice, then up the stairs and round the bedrooms as well! They can also be terribly complex and really hard to understand.

An overview of a fifteen page family tree from Wintree

9. Limited Generations

If you’re a keen genealogist you’re going to want to display at least five or six generations. Trees with less than five generations may be way too limited to be meaningful for family historians. Even if they’re lovely to look at, if they only display a maximum of three or four generations you will miss out on some of the fantastic information you researched. Here’s an example for children from EasyFreeClipArt with three generations.

10. Consider your priorities

Is the family tree mostly for you, your children, or visitors? Is it just for static display, or do you need it to be portable? Is it for a one-off occasion or for permanent use. What is your main motivation? To celebrate an event, decorate your home, honour your ancestors, or connect with your past? You need to think carefully about how to display your family tree. No one solution is right or wrong. Have fun choosing the right one for you!

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