Ancestry Charts: the basics

Ancestry is a subject that intrigues many across the world, and with more ancestry TV shows, access to genealogy services, and online databases available, creating a full picture of your lineage is easier than it’s ever been.

Our previous blog was designed to give you a starting point when undertaking research, including some tips and tricks and advice on how to begin, which you can access here.

One way to aid your ancestry journey is to create a family tree diagram or pedigree chart as it is sometimes known. Here are the basics when it comes to creating a family chart, and how this may help you organise your lineage whilst you find out more about your family.

A pedigree chart or ancestral chart tracks your family history back through time typically going back six or seven generations, but it can be extended as far as the individual sees fit. It tracks those directly related to you as the focused individual. The charts allow you to record your ancestral lineage and help form a correct and easy-to-follow family unit. Typically, each person is numbered on the chart and is allocated a unique number, in case of relatives sharing the same name.

There are also a variety of styles that you can use, for example:

An ancestral or pedigree chart is the most recognisable, which starts with the focus individual on the left of the page, and descending generations are displayed as you move to the right of the chart.

A fan chart is ideal for beginners as it is easily digestible. The focus individual is at the base of the chart, with subsequent generations presented in a fan-like or semi-circular shape.

The Family Group Sheet is another common type of descendant report. It carries data covering three generations of a family (parents, their children and the parents’ parents), so is ideal for data capture, but is also good for display because:

  • A researcher can quickly see what information is in hand and what is missing.
  • Information can be exchanged easily with other researchers.
  • It is more flexible and contains more information than graphical charts or trees.

Common conventions on charts and reports

  • An = mark denotes a married couple. Example: William Blount = Julia Herrick
  • Proved ancestral links are shown with a line, and those that are conjectural are shown with a dotted line.
  • Illegitimate children are often shown by dashed lines descending from the known parent or parents. Dashed lines – – – are also often used to show ‘non-marriage’ relationships. Example: William Blount – – – – Elizabeth Wonder
  • Question marks are used to show that the information is in question. Example: born 1846?
  • Use b. for born, c. or bp. for christened or baptized and bur. for buried. Example: bp. 6 November 1945.

At My Story Told, ancestry is a huge part of what we do, as learning about your lineage and family history goes hand in hand with writing your personal story. Our monthly newsletter contains tips and tricks for those looking to research ancestry, which you can sign up for here:, or download your FREE ancestry chart template here.

At My Story Told, our main goal is to help individuals preserve their life stories in their own words, creating a family treasure that will both preserve their legacy and offer a unique insight into what life was like during their lifetime. 

Ancestry shows such as the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? document the special family stories of celebrities, who go on a journey through their lineage and past. There have been a number of fascinating episodes since its inception in 2004, and we have compiled a few of our favourites below.  

Charles Dance – Season 14, Ep.1  

Charles Dance is a renowned actor who starred as Tywin Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones. His mother was a parlourmaid and his father was an electrical engineer who died when Charles was four and has no memory of. Charles had always believed that his father, Walter, was a divorcee when his mother married him and that he had died in his 50s.  

As the episode ensues, it comes to light that neither of these things were true. Upon inspecting the one photograph of Charles’ father, a military historian saw that the style of military uniform dated the picture to 1900.  

The episode then took an interesting turn, revealing that his father died in his mid-70s, not 50s, and had a wife and children whose descendants now live in South Africa. Amazingly, when browsing through a trunkful of memorabilia, Charles discovered his half-sister’s self-typed autobiography. She wrote of their father in great detail, and provided Charles with a more in-depth perception of him.  

Charles Dance’s story epitomises the importance of documenting your life story. He found out a great deal about his father from his late half-sister’s autobiography which he may have never found otherwise.  

Josh Widdecombe – Season 18, Ep.1 

One aspect of ancestry research that piques the interest of many is the chance that you may be related to somebody famous. That was the hope for comedian Josh Widdecombe, who said that he wanted “to find out something exciting, that’s the dream scenario.”  

Josh already had a slight idea that he may come from a famous lineage when hearing about the collapse of Barings Bank in school and was told he had a connection to the Barings – Josh’s great grandmother’s maiden name was Baring-Gould.  

While researching his lineage further, Josh finds out about his 10x great-grandparents Henry Rich and Isabel Cope – the First Earl of Holland and Countess of Holland. He was then told that Henry was a leading aristocrat and a senior advisor to Charles I, holding the rank of Groom of the Stool – accompanying Charles I to the toilet.  

Josh’s connection to high-standing members of society did not stop there. Further research then found that his 13x great grandparents, Sir Francis Knollys, was a treasurer to Elizabeth I, and his wife, Lady Katherine Knollys, her chief lady of the bedchamber. The link to royalty is symbolised by the fact that Katherine was buried in Westminster Abbey, which is traditionally a place for royalty and aristocracy to be laid to rest.  

The final revelation of Josh’s ancestry journey was when it was revealed that Katherine Knollys’ mother was Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn and mistress of Henry VIII, and was told that some believe that Henry VIII was Katherine’s real father. But it did not stop there, Josh also has connections to the royal family of France. His 23x great grandfather was Edward I, who married the daughter of King Phillipe of France!  

The process was highly recommended by Josh who was astonished by all he’d learned. “I would 100% recommend to anyone,” he says. “If you do want to trace your family tree, that’s an amazing thing to do.”  

Judi Dench – Season 18, Ep.2 

Oscar-winning actor Dame Judi Dench kicks off the episode by explaining her passion for William Shakespeare, ever since she played Ophelia in Hamlet, which actually has a significance to her story.  

Judi was aware that her father Reginald, a doctor, received the Military Cross twice – an award for bravery – after fighting in the First World War. The first for fighting off a German raid at Ypres in 1917, and the second for leading a raid on the enemy trenches himself.  

Judi’s search then begins on her mother’s family, and she learns of her Danish lineage. Her 6x great grandfather married a Danish woman called Anne Catherine Bille. Further research into the Danish lineage resulted in Judi meeting her distant cousin, and fellow actor, Joen Bille, and traced a link to her 10x great aunt, Beate Brahe, who was the mother of famous astronomer Tycho Brahe.  

Beate was a lady-in-waiting to the Danish royal family at Kronborg castle in Helsingør – made famous by, you guessed it, William Shakespeare as Elsinore, the setting of Hamlet! Tycho Brahe was descended from families called Guildensteren and Rosenkrans – names which appear as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare’s play. 

The story came full circle in linking Dame Judi Dench with her hero, William Shakespeare, and another fascinating story of links to royalty. These are the amazing things that can be discovered when researching your ancestry! For more tips on starting ancestry research, read our latest blog here 

Make it easy for your future generations to understand their lineage by documenting your life story with My Story Told. We help you tell your story, your way, and focus on providing an accurate and interesting family heirloom for your relatives to enjoy.  

Start your storytelling journey by contacting us today.