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.