Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Magic of a Horizontal Family Tree

Photo : Horizontal Family Tree / Carrie Norwood
Last week a cousin contacted me.  He'd had his DNA processed at FTDNA and was excited to find that FTDNA says we are fourth cousins.  His father was adopted and he believes us to be related on his father's side.  If I only knew who all my 3rd great grandparents were, we might unlock the mystery of his father's heritage!

Unfortunately, he and I are genetically related on a branch of my family tree that I know very little of.  Or should I say, that while I know we are related on my father's side, he and I are NOT related on the branches of my family tree that I have identified MRCA genetics on or that I know a great deal about through research. So I don't have  fairy tale story of unlocking the family mysteries of my adopted 4th cousin once removed (even were the FTDNA estimate to be accurate, which is another post altogether, I'm sure).  But I do have a fairy tale about how freakin' easy it was to get a list of my 3rd great grandparents.

Because I read this post a few weeks back and had been intrigued, I'd created a horizontal family tree already.  Using my horizontal family tree, it was easy peasy to copy and paste a full list of my 3rd great grandparents on that side. No weeding through ancestor reports or copying and pasting a vertical family tree only to need to un-horizontal™ the resulting list. It's one really super easy tool for my toolkit that makes a big difference in communicating my data to others.

Here is a free google sheets template for you to start with.  If you have a google drive account, Google drive is free to use.  If you prefer MS Office or Open Office, you can download the template to your desktop and use it in one of those apps.

There are two styles of horizontal family tree - left to right or right to left.  Pick whichever works best for you.  Keep your template tabs unedited so that you can reuse the template as often as you'd like.  When you're ready to map out a family tree:
  1. copy the template that you want to use into a new tab (click the template tab with the right mouse button and select 'duplicate' from the pop up menu)  
  2. rename the duplicate tab to the family member who's tree you will be adding
  3. add your generation titles to the first row of the new tab
  4. Fill in your names
That's it!  Next time someone asks you for a list of your 4th great grandparents, it's as easy as copying and pasting the column.  

It's really easy, when using a spreadsheet based pedigree, to highlight certain family lines or ancestors - for instance your X chromosome donors are all one color, or the branch of a tree associated with a particular genetic cousin is another color.  It makes it easy to visually follow a particular pattern.

If you'd like to create one from scratch, it's easy.  Here are the basics : 
  • start with a very small line height for the furthest away generation
  • In the 2nd column, merge two cells to give you a cell that is twice the height of the previous 'generation' of cells or the child of the previous generation.
  • In the 3rd column, merge 4 cells together and so forth.  
  • Freeze your top row so that your column labels stay in place when you scroll down.  
  • set your vertical alignment and horizontal alignment for every cell to center


  1. I followed the link and got an excel spreadsheet that is a Genealogy Research Checklist. ;Not certain that is where I am supposed to be...

  2. Eep! Sorry about that. Try now. :)