Diagramming a family tree for the absolute novice

I’m always exasperated when I see responses to a Facebook posting from an absolute beginner asking how to simply create a basic family tree.

So many people tell them to use Word (or Excel) and just start! Others tell them to buy software … when the person isn’t experienced enough to recognize the right tool for their need. And others suggest one of the big world-tree cloud tools… so they can mess up the work of a whole community of rabid genealogy addicts.

That’s like having a lost 6-year-old tell you they’re hungry and want to eat. So you put an 8" chef’s knife in their hand and say “everything you need is in here” after shoving them into a deserted well-stocked commercial kitchen. It is likely to end in tears.

A lot of these questions ARE from kids in middle school. One of the common projects is to build your family tree.

So after posting the following response, I thought maybe we should build a wiki tutorial page for people who just want to dip a toe into Genealogy.

Very superficial… Just deep enough to make
a few meaningful but basic reports & charts. That means covering immediate (blended) family, 1st cousins and up to great-grandparents.

one of my recent responses on Facebook:
Since you’re just getting started, use a free genealogy software package. Learn what you do & don’t like. They all export & import GEDCOM (the most standard genealogy file format). So you can try several tools in succession without losing work.

Avoid entering data in any of the world tree cloud-based tools (like WikiTree, FamilySearch) until you know better about what you’re doing. You’ll make lots of mistakes at the beginning and people will get upset. (And they will not hesitate to publicly ream you.)

Do NOT use Word. Starting from a blank page or fill-in-the-blank form creates a certainty that you have to do rework. And only fallback to Excel if you find a pre-built workbook that has a simple table for entering the data and has other pages that generate charts from that table. Generally, you can export a table in CSV format and import that into several Genealogy software packages. Otherwise you’ll end up re-keying all that data.

Personally, I use Gramps… but it has a steep learning curve that might be too frustrating for beginners. On the other hand, it is one of the few tools that import your contact list (exported from your phone in standard vCard format) to start connecting in family groups. So, if you have all your cousins, sibs, and your parents’ generation in your phone contacts with their birthdays & anniversaries; this may be a good way to start. (Make sure the YOU are in your contact list too! You are the center of your genealogy universe and where it all begins.)
Download - Gramps


22 posts were split to a new topic: Novice user UX proposed solution

This original posting will be revisited with actual discussion of for the first time user… after the UX modification is finalized.