During my research, I often want to 'rough out' simple multi-generation family trees (based on birth/bap/mar/death/bur) to explore, for example, how a bunch of entries in the parish registers on a single parish over a 150-year period (1700 - 1850 say), might fit together; or more simply, how all the individuals shown in a census household might fit together (and thus trigger me to look for supporting data for an hypothesis).

I could generate the trees by hand, but these aren't easy to rearrange as new data comes in, or when I want to try different configurations. I could use my main genealogy software, but that would be overkill and doesn't support easily trying out new 'shapes' of the tree. (Plus I prefer not to enter data there until I have a very high degree of confidence in it.)

Microsoft Visio (Organisation charts) seems like a hammer to crack a nut. Scapple might be another alternative. I have access to both of those.

However, I'd like to explore more targeted charting alternatives (preferably free). Google throws up a plethora of 'solutions', as does GenSoftReviews but I'd value recommendations from the community here.

Minimum requirements:

  • Add individuals with tentative (editable) bap/mar/bur dates, with links to parents spouses and descendants.
  • Drag and drop individuals or branches of the tree to alternative positions under other branches
  • Visual representation
  • Handle trees showing descendants of multiple starting points (until hopefully I can join the various branches together)

Desirable but not essential:

  • Warning when date ranges don't make sense (e.g. child bap when mother aged 60)

Does anyone have experience of some software/tool that they'd recommend for this purpose? Or would recommend (with reasoning) staying with the paper-based approach? I'm most used to working with drop-line charts in this way.

  • As a Family Historian user I would have thought that you would use than in diagram mode and drag and drop and add there.
    – Colin
    Apr 5, 2018 at 6:34
  • @Colin Yes, but I prefer not to include tentative data in my database or create multiple projects -- I just want a simple diagramming tool that supports 'what if' experimentation (in a 'throw away' fashion), and setting up multiple FH projects to do that seems like overkill.
    – user6485
    Apr 5, 2018 at 7:44
  • You still have the option of staying with Visio if you have it, and just learn what you need to know for developing simple trees. Here, for example, is Jeff Wilkinson's article on using Visio for Family Trees: wilk4.com/visio/visio4familytrees.htm
    – lkessler
    Apr 6, 2018 at 15:00
  • That may be the route I go @lkessler as I'm very familiar with Visio.
    – user6485
    Apr 6, 2018 at 16:36
  • Just my 2p worth. I have a "play" project in FH so if want to do some experimenting I open that one, add an unrelated individual and draw the tree as Colin suggested.
    – Jane T
    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:34

5 Answers 5


If you have Microsoft Powerpoint, you can open a new presentation and then search for "family tree" and they give you 8 different templates that you can choose from:

enter image description here

These use "Smart Art" so the lines are preconnected to the boxes and you can move them around and the lines stay connected. You can easily copy and paste boxes to add other people.

These diagrams can then be copied to other Office applications, e.g. Word or Excel and the Smart Art can be manipulated in those applications as well.

Here, for example, is a chart I created with Excel for an upcoming blog post, and I did it in less than 10 minutes simply by inserting shapes. You can also insert SmartArt if you want:

enter image description here

  • This methodics is OK because of two reasons: PowerPoint is standard de-facto for presentations and it is the simplest way to draw small tree. But it has great drawbacks: you need to buy PowerPoint; I am Linux user, so I can't use offline version of PowerPoint, I use LibreOffice package instead; also it is very difficult to draw tree of reasonable size in PowerPoint. Special software is more suited for this purpose Apr 6, 2018 at 15:13
  • LibreOffice (free) also offers Impress (Presentation) and Draw (Drawing) but I don't know if family tree templates made for Power Point would be compatible.
    – Jan Murphy
    Apr 8, 2018 at 18:01

I have personally become a fan of LucidChart.com for anything I need to rough out or even formally do for smaller trees.

It has a few tree / family tree / genealogy charts that can handle small charts under the "Education" template section but I like the business ones even more for this specific purpose like the org chart function (which supports importing CSV) and other things like that.

enter image description here enter image description here

It is much cheaper than Visio (and easier to use) or Office and there is a free and paid version of it.


Have you had a look at the SVG Generator by Tony Proctor? It maybe overkill for what you want BUT it will give you the graphical interface that you want and also allows you to record vital information and notes about each person.

It is available free from Tony by contacting him through his blog here. There is also a Facebook group for it. This is a sample tree I built using it. There are videos on its use on YouTube.

  • Thanks, and yes I have, but it doesn't really seem suited to this requirement.
    – user6485
    Apr 6, 2018 at 7:26
  • I think it does meet all your requirements, including drag and drop, creating different links and spouses. I would suggest give it a go, particularly as no one else has come up with alternative suggestions.
    – Colin
    Apr 6, 2018 at 9:21
  • Colin, if I start out with two separate families possibly a generation apart, possibly with overlapping dates of children, could I drag one family under another to create linkages? Or drag a child from one family to another? Or is the only mechanism for creating the tree via data?
    – user6485
    Apr 6, 2018 at 9:53
  • Yes you can and you could have 2 separate trees and drag a whole tree from one to the other and it will align the common people.
    – Colin
    Apr 6, 2018 at 19:44
  • I've been using it for this very purpose. When I'm looking through some particular data, I can record names, dates, etc., by hand, but it's hard to visualise it. These trees are very free-form: pedigree and/or descendants, disjoint segments, indications of tentative relationships, plus room for tons of notes/images/links for each person or family.
    – ACProctor
    May 3, 2018 at 9:45

I may be misunderstanding the question but I create trial or "research" trees all the time in Ancestry. But to avoid leading other ancestry users astray by what I consider as tentative relationships or questionable vital stats, I make those trees private. I have from time to time had as many as 15 such trees going simultaneously.

  • I really want a visual representation which Ancestry doesn't deliver.
    – user6485
    Apr 4, 2018 at 18:53
  • @ColeValleyGirl Do you have a preference for charting (drop-line, pedigree, etc.)?
    – Jan Murphy
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:25
  • @JanMurphy see edit to Q.
    – user6485
    Apr 5, 2018 at 5:38

I am researching the same topic and still no answer. I have researched my own tree and have software for that but the data entry is slow and I don't want to clog up my tree with 80+ other trees. I am also doing a single name study and require to make dozens of family trees that are not related in a simple way. I found Family Echo on line and it was excellent, simple at pumping basic data and making a tree as you would with a piece of paper and a pen. However, it allowed me to save as a pdf but only one tree. Ideally it would have a system to import and export csv or gedcom files to enable me to receive/send it to others to use the data.

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