The common format I've seen for published family trees (e.g., Register-style) start with a particular ancestral couple and move forward generation by generation. This has the advantage that the numbers run in sequence, but I've found that it can be difficult reading for non-genealogists, as grandparents, parents, and children may be scattered throughout.

I'm considering organizing a narrative that traces each line from top to bottom rather than generation by generation (vertically rather than horizontally - I would have said "depth-first", bit it isn't quite). If I use the Register-style numbering, the numbers would be out of sequence, but I'm hoping that a complete name/number index will compensate.

My question is: are there any published guidelines for organizing a family narrative in this way? Or even a good published example of such? I've seen some published genealogies where the primary surname line(s) were presented in the standard way, but with other lines presented separately. I'm looking for something more general than that, if possible.

2 Answers 2


The problem with family trees is that there is not really a vertical or a horizontal way of going through it. There's just branches of varying sizes, which don't translate well over into the one dimensional path that a book is. A difficulty with a "vertical" or top-to-bottom approach is that to prevent redundancy, each of the chapters may have to begin at a different generation any way, and it can get just as confusing. In any case, what I find really helpful is to use lots of charts and diagrams.

An old but interesting example I have used that is structured more by branch than by generation is A History of the Wedgwood Family (1908). In each chapter, the author still goes through each branch generation by generation but it is in more manageable pieces. There is also a diagram at the beginning of each chapter containing the basic overview of that branch. You can download a PDF of this book for free from archive.org (43.9 MB).


I published a family history book about the ancestors of my paternal grandparents. Part 1 is my grandfather's ancestors and part 2 is my grandmother's. Each chapter is a separate branch...a different surname. The chapter begins with the earliest known ancestor and continues generation by generation, including historical detail, until a daughter marries out and the surname of the line changes. The line continues in that new surname, beginning with the earliest known ancestor. Each chapter includes a simple chart showing how that surname's line concludes with my grandparents.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.