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Meet the Author
I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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How to Create a Reverse Family Tree

This post will give you some resources if you're trying to create a reverse family tree or trying to decide if creating one is right for you. We'll look at...

  • What is a reverse family tree
  • How to learn more about creating a reverse family tree
  • How to get a free reverse family tree template 

This post is all about giving you resources to help you because there are two very different things you might be looking for if you searched for a "reverse family tree template" or "how to create a reverse family tree." I'm going to give you resources for both!

Basically, if you're interested in a "reverse family tree" you are either looking for information about a genealogy technique (i.e. something to help with your family history research) or you're looking for how to create a display of a family tree starting with an ancestor (i.e. a gift to give or a presentation method). You can skip to the section you're interested in by using the links below or just read the whole post (because if you want a template but like doing genealogy, learning about the genealogy technique could really up your genealogy game!)

Reverse Family Tree Genealogy Technique

What is a Reverse Family Tree?

A reverse family tree starts with a person in the past and researches their descendants. "In the past" just requires the person to have descendants so you could be researching a living person, including yourself.

Because this can start with a living person, just like a traditional family tree, this is often why people want to create an actual reverse family tree (a picture of the tree). A reverse family tree can be a really nice gift to give to older relatives showing all of their descendants on one page. It's also something you can give as an anniversary gift or perhaps a "wedding gift" for the grandparents or great-grandparents of the bride and groom. It's obviously much easier to compile information on all the descendants of a living person, who you know personally, than trying to research their ancestors and create a giftable family tree.

[jump to the section about reverse family tree templates if you're looking for help creating a gift]

So creating a giftable family tree is easier if you create a reverse family tree of a living relative than creating a several generation traditional family tree (also called a pedigree chart) of the same person. However, creating a reverse family tree to help your genealogy research is a different proposition.

When we're talking about a technique for family history research, creating a reverse family tree is called "reverse genealogy." I actually have a post about what is reverse genealogy, including how to create a reverse family tree (for genealogy research). There are multiple reasons you'd want to create a reverse family tree for genealogy research so they are best covered in the post about reverse genealogy.

That post looks at both traditional research and using DNA for genealogy as relates to the reverse genealogy technique.

Read "What is Reverse Genealogy?"

Reverse Family Tree Templates

So you want to create a display reverse family tree? OK, let's get you some help!

First, it does make a difference if you want a simple template to just help you visualize the descendants of a person or if you're looking for an attractive gift. If you want a simple reverse family tree template, especially if you want something to help you work on your family history, you can follow the advice in the section about how to create a free reverse family tree. That section can be used by anyone interested in creating a reverse family tree and is the best recommendation if you're looking for a "working" reverse family tree.

Skip ahead if you want to create a "working" reverse family tree, not a gift.

Before we get to the universal advice, I want to cover information for people looking for a gift. You might use advice from both of the following sections if you want to create a giftable reverse family tree so this order makes the most sense in that situation.

Creating a Giftable Family Tree

There are two starting points if you want to create a reverse family tree to give as a gift. You want ONE of the options below...

  • An artistically created tree (requires you either have the artistic skill or the money to pay someone with the skill plus you have enough time for the tree to be created).
  • An electronically created and printed tree (because you lack the skills/funds/time)

If you want to give a reverse family tree as a gift, you probably WANT the artistically created tree ("artistically" can still be created electronically, involving graphic design instead of hand-created design). The artistically created tree always requires enough time before the gift will be given as well as having the skills to create it (with the option of having the money to pay someone with the skills if one of the gift-givers doesn't have it). There are a lot of people who won't have this important combination of resources and that's what the section about free templates covers.

Skip ahead if you don't have the resources for the artistically created tree.

I actually can't really provide extremely specific resources if you want to create or purchase an artistically created tree. You're limited either by your own skills or what you can find to purchase.

If you will be creating the tree yourself but need inspiration, you can search Pinterest, Etsy, and even Google image search. You don't have to specifically search for a "reverse family tree." If you're artistic, I'm sure you can imagine how a traditional tree (just search "family tree") can be altered to be a reverse family tree. Yes, you might want to search "reverse family tree" just to see how the layout might vary but I'm sure you can come up with a design. (There's some more advice after the following paragraph about hiring someone to create the tree).

If you're looking to hire someone to create a tree for you, I recommend searching Etsy. This is a good starting point to see what is offered and the price range. You can narrow your Etsy search to people in your country (or in specific countries of your choosing---this can really affect shipping!). If you need or want to hire a local artist who isn't familiar with creating a reverse family tree, you can provide concrete examples from Etsy.

Some universal advice for a hand-created tree

Regardless if you are creating the tree or you're going to hire someone, I recommend creating a draft of the actual tree information. If you're an artist, you'll likely realize this is necessary but I wouldn't call myself an artist, but I will try artistic projects, and this is the type of thing I realize I should have done after I've wasted time and supplies.

You can create the draft by hand or use one of the free options listed below. You could even write each name on a piece of small paper (like a note card cut into fourths so each piece is the same size) and then lay them out.

Here's the problem with creating a reverse family tree...

Your reverse family tree is unique. A normal family tree (a pedigree chart) is the same for every human. We all have two parents who have two parents, etc.. That's a standard layout. If you want to represent any other kind of family relationship, it'll vary by the family (regardless if you want a present to past tree that includes non-biological parents or you want a reverse tree or a layout that's not a tree at all).

When we're talking about a gift, something you want to look nice, you have tons of options for how you list names and if you list birthdates, places, photos, colors, etc. You want to see the information laid out in a reverse tree style so you can decide what to include or exclude.

You might have been planning on listing full names, until you realize Uncle Joe gave his six kids four names each with at least three syllables, in addition to their very long last name. They might dominate the tree if you list full names for everyone. Maybe you realize you don't have full names for everyone and some cousins just won't respond! Maybe you decide you don't want each generation perfectly lined up because your tree will look like a grocery receipt laying on its side.

This is a gift, make it look nice and what is "nice" is your call. This isn't about genealogy research, it's about art. If you're hiring someone, you want to have any realizations about alterations before the item is created or you'll be paying ot have it created again---or you're just stuck.

Create a draft, in the tree layout, either by hand or using one of the free options below. Using something like the index card suggestion will be the easiest to play with the layout.

Creating a Reverse Family Tree for Free

(Or, Should You Buy a Reverse Family Tree Template?)

I did not realize you can buy a reverse family tree template. I don't advise it. Why? The reverse family tree is unique to your family. Any template is going to require some finessing and you can achieve similar results (or better results) some other way. [Note: If you want to create a standard family tree/pedigree chart with two parents displayed per person, you can absolutely buy a template. It's how much alteration a reverse family tree might require that is my issue, not templates in general.]

Also, I'm recommending against buying a template. If you are hiring a person to create the reverse family tree for you, that's different (they get the headache of making it work which is what you're paying them for). Maybe they type in the info and then you get the file to make it pretty, sounds like a good use of your money.

But a free or inexpensive reverse family tree template is often appealing because you lack the money to pay someone to do it for you and you lack the skill to create it from scratch.

You don't have to use a template or create the reverse family tree from scratch. There are plenty of other options, specifically, free family tree software/online trees.

Creating a graphical family tree has long been a problem for genealogists. It is one of the big reasons genealogy software got started so early in the computer age. It is still one of the big features of basic software or online trees.

The biggest advantage of using software or an online tree (which are not actually the same thing. If you're only interested in creating a graphical tree, the differences don't matter, though) is you can change the layout with a click of a button. You type the information in once and then can try different options without reentering the information. A free or cheap "template" will not do this (it would be a database or atleast a spreadsheet, not a template if it could do this).

Here are some free options where you'll be able to generate a reverse family tree (usually called a descendant tree).

I recommend MyHeritage.com for creating an easy, printable descendant tree. They also have some amazing photo editing/animation options you might use for a gift, too.

Legacy Family Tree allows you to create a horizontal or vertical descendant tree up to four generations using their free version. This gives you lots of options for adding a background and deciding what information to list.

Remember, you can also use these free options to simply create a view of your reverse family tree so you see how wide it will be. This can help you or an artist you hire visualize the layout before beginning the project (and also makes sure the names are in the correct generation).

At this time, the "poster" printing service offered by Ancestry.com shows "coming soon" for a descendancy poster. The online trees from FamilySearch will not print a descendant tree. You can print a descendant list or a tree that shows ancestors and descendants of a selected person. BUT...

If you have your family tree information entered at a site or in software (like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch), you can download a GEDCOM file and then load that file into another online tree or software. Then you can use their chart options without having to retype all your information. Look for information about how to download/upload a GEDCOM from the site you are trying to use as it will vary.

Time Saver:
If you have your information entered but a reverse family tree isn't a printing option, you can download a GEDCOM file and then load that file into another online tree or software

A reverse family tree is usually called a "descendant chart" in genealogy software. 

There are also textual options for printing lists of descendants so the word "descendant" isn't the key. I actually haven't seen "reverse family tree" as a printing option in online trees or software programs so don't think it isn't an option only because you don't see that phrase. Take a look at the different types of charts if you've already got information entered at a website or in a software program. Paid software in particular usually offers several options for printing a genealogy chart.

You may be able to remove or add a background to a chart as well as simply printing on larger or nicer paper to create a gift.

Paid Software

There are two genealogy software programs that I recommend. Both have free versions but I can see one does not offer wall charts in the free version. The other is Legacy Family Tree (listed above). The free version limits you to printing four generations. Both paid versions are very reasonably priced but will cost more than a "template" would.

If you're interested in genealogy I'd recommend one of these software programs (the paid version) to create your family tree gift. If you can afford the software, I'd recommend one of these to create your gift. You will get much better/easier options to try different layouts, including different information, and altering the background or pictures.

One of these is not better than the other. They appeal to different people. Unfortunately, you just have to try them to tell which you like better. That's why they offer free options. If you are already own software, check what types of charts can be printed. There are many types of genealogy software out there. I make my recommendations based on genealogy research, not giftable charts, so many might do what you need (I'm also a Windows user so I don't have recommendations for Mac).

If you can select your own background for the tree, you can use a free online graphics program like Canva or PicMonkey to create a background image if you don't like the options from the site/software you're using.

You can also enhance your tree by printing on different types of paper instead of using a background image. Your options will vary depending on how you are having the tree printed (is it printed and mailed to you, are you using a print shop or store like FedEx Office, are you printing at home). Some local print shops can provide the printer and you provide the paper giving you more paper and size options. You need to investigate this ahead of time, though.

Creating a reverse family tree takes some prep ahead of time. The more customized you want it, the more time you need to give yourself. But I have one more suggestion that just might help if you're short on time...

The Handmade Tree for Non-artists and Technophobes

As I've said before, the problem with a reverse family tree is how each is unique. There isn't a standard template that will work for everyone. But I have a suggestion if you're limited on time/skills/money and/or can't get technology to give you a tree you like.

For a simple tree...

  1. Write or print each name on a standard-sized piece of cardstock. You can buy something like business cards or cut the names apart from a larger piece of paper (check both your arts and craft store and office store for options).
  2. Find a frame and background paper for your tree. You want to do the names first so you get a frame big enough to hold all of them.
  3. Layout your tree on the background until you like how it looks.
  4. Get glue dots to attach the names to the background paper. Glue dots make sure you don't get glue all over the place, I'm assuming you're no crafting ninja.
  5. Frame your tree.
  6. Give the tree and accept the adoration.

There are tons of variations you could do with this if you're a little crafty or a bit artistic. You can add photos or more details with each name (why not ask each person for a memory of the recipient if you have the space). You can add ephemera to the background (be careful, glue dots are designed for paper to paper adhesion, other materials can get tricky even if your glue claims it will work on it).

Don't try and toss together something complex at the last minute. I've had so many glue failures on gifts, but not until after they were gifted. Leaving time for testing really helps if you want to expand on the basic tree idea (glue dots have never failed me when used with paper).

Wondering where to get background paper that's bigger than printing paper? 

  • You can find bright colors designed for classroom bulletin boards (at arts and crafts stores, office stores, and school supply stores).
  • You can find a variety of options in artist's papers. How many options depends on the size of your arts/crafts store and its focus.

Start by getting your cards together so you can see what size your final tree could be. With this hand-made option, you'll be able to move the cards around a little if you need to fit a certain size. If you aren't familiar with where to get larger paper, start with an online search to see what exists and the prices.

 Don't forget to check local print shops if needed.