Using Birth Certificates to Build a Family Tree

Woman asking about Obama's birth certificate and the rise of birtherism

Building your family tree is a popular school project, so you may have young family members asking for information about their grandparents and great-grandparents. However, creating a family tree can be a fun and rewarding experience for someone of any age. Building a family tree involves tracing your family history and ancestry to create a chart showing your past and current relatives and how they are all related to one another.

The basic of family trees

Creating a family tree is just a way of building a visual representation of a family history. There are two different of family trees:

Traditional family trees  – can be anything from simple handwritten notes, to beautifully designed heirlooms that have been added to and passed down for generations.

Modern family trees – these are usually created on a computer, using basic office software or dedicated family tree designer programs.

There are many different genealogy products available online that are free to use to create a family tree. However, for more in-depth research, you can use a service like, Findmypast, or My Heritage, all of which charge a fee. These types of services may be useful if you cannot uncover much information about your older family members on your own. For example, your family may not have kept old documents as heirlooms, or many of your older family members may already be deceased. So, if you are having trouble discovering more about ancestors, you may want to consider using a paid service. They can connect you with extended family members who may access to additional documents or information.

It’s up to you whether you want to create a digital family tree or create and heirloom, handwritten one. The most important things to know are what information to include in it and how to carry the research.

What information is usually included in a family tree?

Every type of family tree follows a basic format. You will have a line or box with the name of each family member and those lines or boxes are then connected by lines to other family members, to show how the individuals are related to one another.

You can set up a vertical family tree, where you place older ancestors above younger family members, or a horizontal one. It’s up to you and what look you prefer.

Where a family member is listed, among the other members, will indicate their relationship type. For example, it will show whether they are parent and child, cousins, siblings, etc.

In general, family trees include each family member’s:

  • Name
  • Place of birth
  • Dates of birth, marriage, and/or death

Family trees can also have additional information that the creator deemed relevant or wanted to be remembered. Whatever information you choose to include, your family tree should be laid out in a way that allows people to easily understand how the family members are related.

Now you’re probably wondering, “How do I start?”

You can also check out: What information is on a birth certificate?

How to start researching to build a family tree

Before you begin building your family tree, you’ll have to gather the information you need about your relatives and ancestors.

A good way to get started is by interviewing older members of your family. Your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents will likely be more than happy to share stories and information on their relatives. If you choose to record or video these interviews, they can be a great heirloom to remember your relatives by.

If you have access to them, older personal documents can also be an excellent source of information. Family members’ birth certificates or other vital records, and even old photo albums, hold a wealth of information on your family’s past.

You can also scan or photograph the documents to keep a digital record of the information and make it easier to sort through.

Tips for building a family tree

If you decide to create a handwritten family tree, there are special archival ink pens you can use to make sure the writing is preserved and does not fade over time.

Figure out what information you want to include about family members. Knowing this helps you narrow down your focus when researching your family history.

These documents may be helpful in your research:

  • Baptismal and religious records
  • Birth certificates
  • Burial records and obituaries
  • Death certificates
  • Graduation records
  • Marriage or divorce certificates
  • Military and occupational records
  • Newspaper articles
  • Old family letters
  • Photographs and memorabilia
  • Social activity mementos
  • Sports awards
  • Yearbooks

Genealogy websites can be useful tools to help you find information, as well as public libraries.

Birth certificates can help you learn the names of deceased family members that may be forgotten. You can order a birth certificate copy online for your direct relatives (parents, grandparents, spouse, etc.) if they do not have a copy available. However, if the individual was born over 100 years ago, their birth certificate is considered a public record and is easily accessible. You can check out our article on how to access public vital records for more information.

You may also want to read:

Order your Birth Certificate  

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