• Timothy J. Barron

How Were Those Family Tree Charts Created?


There are numerous documentary television series available on genealogy and family tree research, and these series can be of interest whether you are a beginner or an expert. One aspect shown in some of these television series are family tree charts, and some of these charts can be poster size and some of them might feature fancy calligraphy. This blog post shares information on how some of these charts were generated, as well as some tips on creating your own charts.



Finding Your Roots (PBS)

The American genealogical television series Finding Your Roots airs on PBS in the USA, and is hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. Each episode begins with Dr. Gates providing the celebrity guest with a "Book of Life" about their ancestry, and then the details are revealed page by page. At the end of each episode, the celebrity guest is provided with a colorful poster sized chart of their family tree, as shown in the above photo, which are widely recognizable with the solid colors on a black background.


It is commonly asked how these charts were generated, such as in genealogy groups on Facebook. It would be easy to assume that the charts are generated with some type of family tree software, but that is actually not the case. The charts are custom generated using diagramming and digital illustration software called OmniGraffle for macOS.


The source for this information came from the blog post Whose Charts are shown on PBS "Finding Your Roots" Series? on the website of Randy Seaver back in 2012. Further down in the the comments of the blog post, a production assistant from the series explained how that charts were generated using OmniGraffle, and even where they were printed.



Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC)

The genealogical television series Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA) is a worldwide franchise that has versions in multiple countries, including the USA. The original version of Who Do You Think You Are? originates from the UK and airs on the BBC. The British version of the series first aired in 2004, and there have been 18 seasons and over 150 episodes.


Recent episodes of the British version of the series feature family tree charts with fancy calligraphy and multiple colors, as shown in the above photo. It is commonly asked how these charts were generated, such as in British oriented genealogy groups on Facebook. Those family tree charts were hand drawn by professional calligrapher Janet Smith, who offers her services via Oakleaf Calligraphy Family Trees. The source for this information came from the website of Family Tree Magazine from the UK on their page Meet the 'Danny Dyer' Family Tree Chart Creator, which contains a brief interview with Janet.



Options for Creating and Printing Family Tree Charts


Should you already have data for your family tree and want to create a family tree chart and have it printed, there are a wide variety of options available to you.

  • Standard Software: There are quite a number of options available for family tree software, such as Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic, and all have options for generating different types of family tree charts. These charts can be saved in print ready formats, such as a PDF, and could be printed at a wide variety of places, such as OfficeMax, Office Depot, FedEx Office, etc. Simply contact one of these places for advisement and instructions on how they would want you to generate the file.

  • Custom Software: Should you want to create your own custom charts, there are a wide variety of choices available, and this includes the diagramming and digital illustration software OmniGraffle, which is used on Finding Your Roots. Another alternative is the free and open source diagrams.net software, which can be used via a web browser or a downloadable version to install on your computer. The chart could be saved in a print ready format, such as PDF, and could be printed at a wide variety of places as described above.

  • Fonts: If you desire the charts to have a unique or fancy appearance, such as with calligraphy, this can be achieved through fonts. There are a wide variety of websites which offer free fonts, such as Abstract Fonts.

  • Professional Services: There are a number of professional publishing services that are dedicated to printing family trees. Two examples include Family ChartMasters and the St. Louis Genealogical Society. While I have not utilized either of these services, I've seen them frequently mentioned in genealogy discussion groups.

Should you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below, as well as leave any suggestions for others to read and take advantage of.



#genealogy #genealogytips



© Copyright - Timothy J. Barron - This page was updated January 8, 2022