Never go out on a limb for the relatives

'A family tree has its growing tip at the bottom and its roots in mid-air! Nothing like a tree at all!'
Click to follow

Have you made your family tree yet?

Have you made your family tree yet?

Well, it's about time you did.

The genealogical craze has been sweeping the country for several years now, and you don't want to be the only person in your neck of the woods without a listed great-great-grandmother, do you? Of course you don't.

In the words of the motto of the Genealogical Society: "Nobody got here without having forebears, or if they did, we'd certainly like to hear about it."

So, let's make our family tree, step by step.

First, you have to decide what kind of tree you want to have as a model.

Do you like the idea of a birch?

Or a clipped yew tree?

Or a tall slender poplar?

In the old days, most family trees resembled a rather untidy, sprawling giant oak. This was partly because there were far too many people in Victorian families, and partly because Victorian handwriting tended to be not very neat and would ramble right to the edge of the page.

Nowadays, thank goodness, people don't have nearly so many children, and family trees tend to be a lot tidier, especially if you have a computer.

But if you do have lots of cousins and aunties, not to mention poor old Uncle Sidney, and you can't get them all on your family tree without squashing them in, you may find yourself having to cut a lot of them out.

Well, a family tree is like any other kind of tree.

It benefits from a lot of pruning and cutting back.

Remember the motto of the Genealogical Society: "The more relations you ignore, the more room there is for all the others."

Right! Time to start your family tree. Get a large piece of paper. Put your name near the bottom of it. Ask yourself: "Who was my mother?"

If you know, put her name above yours and connect the two with a line.

Now do the same for your father, if you know who he was, and connect him to your mother with an = sign.

If you don't know who your father was, ring up your mother and ask her. While she's on the line, ask her what year she was born but don't let the conversation get to the point where she asks you why you forgot her birthday last year.

Right! Now you should have a diagram looking like this:

Father = Mother



It's not much, is it? And it doesn't much look like a tree yet, does it? More like a sycamore seedling. But don't worry! From tiny thingies mighty thingies do grow. Keep adding people to the different generations, and, pretty soon, you will have a proper tree, which will look something like this:

Masses and masses

of people



Do you see how this is much bigger at the top than at the bottom? Hugely bushy at the top and thinner and thinner the nearer to you it gets?

Why is this so? Because, in the words of the Genealogical Society's motto: "We all have more forebears than descendants, Dummkopf."

Round about now, it will suddenly occur to you that a family tree is nothing like a real tree at all. All real trees are hugely bushy near the bottom and tend to get thinner and thinner nearer the top, where the growing tip is.

But a family tree has its growing tip at the bottom and its roots at the top, dangling in mid-air! Why, it is nothing like a real tree at all!

What you have got here is a monstrosity. All those visits to parish registers and phone calls to Aunt Flo in New Zealand have been in vain.

What you have got is not so much a family tree, more like a creeper coming down from the forest canopy with all sorts of bugs and crawlies in it, the sort of thing even David Attenborough might make fun of. Ugh!

No wonder the next thing you do is stuff your family tree away in a drawer and wish you'd never bothered.

Or, to quote the motto of the Genealogical Society: "Too late now - we've already got your money, sucker!"