In my Barker history project, I’m using small family trees throughout the publication to introduce family groups and to help readers understand how the people in the stories relate to each other. I could use my genealogy software to create my trees for me, but I want these trees to be design elements as well as functional elements within the history so I’ll be building mine myself.
One of my favorite design apps for family trees is Microsoft PowerPoint’s org chart creator. In older versions, you’ll find organizational charts included in PowerPoint’s chart applet. Now it’s hidden in the Smart Art applet. It’s easy to build a three- or four-generation tree, change its design and cut out single families for use within a project. Unfortunately, the org chart isn’t part of the Mac version of Office nor does iWork’s Keynote have anything similar. [heavy sigh]
One option is to scan an interesting Births page from a Bible and then Photoshop your names into it using a handwriting font. I like this idea and am currently looking for interesting Bible page designs.
My next thought is to use tables. A table is a grid that holds text. I can build tables in either my word processing or my spreadsheet app. Before you start wrinkling up your nose and going “eeewwwww”, think about it. Tables can be styled with color (background, borders and text) and style (font face, dotted or dashed lines and text alignment) and it’s easy to expand or reduce the size of each cell. By learning how to merge and split cells, you can build some pretty jazzy charts.
The key to using tables to build charts is the grid. Normally, when you build a table, you’re thinking about how to arrange the content. For a family with four children, the first thought is to build a table one column wide and five rows long (parents and four children). But, for a chart we also want spacing and lines to define our relationships visually so we’ll need additional rows and cells to make that happen. If you’ve ever used graph paper to build a chart, you’ll know what I mean. The graph paper’s grid is used to align generations and draw the lines connecting them. We’re going to use the cells of our table as our grid. The advantage here is that we can easily change the width or height of our cells to suit our needs.
Here I’m starting with a 6×6 grid. I’ve selected four cells on the top row and I’m about to merge them into one. These examples are using iWork’s Pages word processor so the commands will be a bit different but the concept is the same. Generally, select the cells, right-click your mouse (Cmd + click for Macs) and you’ll see some kind of Merge Cells command in the popup menu that appears.
After entering the parents into my wide cell, I need to create an indent for the children. Here I’ve selected the two left cells and resized their column width to 0.25″ each. Why two cells? I want to draw some lines and will use the borders of the second column to create them. The first column provides the indent spacing.
Using the cell’s borders to create your lines is easy and you have options for color, line style and width. All that’s left is to remove any cells you didn’t need and select the font you want to use. If you built this table inside your family history project file, you’re good to go. If you built it in a separate file (recommended), you can copy/paste it into your project or screen capture it and treat it as a graphic image. This will allow you to further manipulate your tree. In the example below, the screen capture was saved as a graphic with a transparent background and placed on top of the page’s background “paper” with a bit of a tilt. The opacity of the tree image was reduced until it looks like it’s part of the paper.
I chose this very simple tree design because my plan was to embed the result on my page. Your imagination is your only limit in how you create your tree. Table cells can hold multiple lines of text so you can easily include additional information for each individual – even photos. Put a border around that person’s cell, add a background color and your tree becomes a chart. Use your grid to arrange your family members either vertically or horizontally. Copy, cut and paste give you the ability to easily rearrange things and the Redo button is your best friend. Every time you get a section looking the way you like, save your work. If you make a horrible mess later, you can quickly fall back to the last saved version and pick up from there.
We all know family tree charts can be beautiful works of art displayed on the wall, but with a little bit of effort and imagination they can also become eye-catching design elements inside your family history that grab your reader’s attention and help them keep track of who’s who in the narrative.