I have, using Ancestry.co.uk found a link in my distant heritage to the Prettyjohn (variations: Prettejohn, Petitjohn) family originally located in Devon.

One great source of information on this family, leading all the way back to the 16th Century, is this website:

enter image description here

My only problem is I can't understand the way that the tree is formatted at all.

Is this a fairly standard form of documentation?

I have tried to contact the website owner via the email link on the page, but have heard nothing back in over a month. Can anyone decipher it and explain it to me (bearing in mind I am still fairly new to family history)?

4 Answers 4


Below is a snippet from the site/page referenced in the question. The report is often called an outline descendant report. Each descending generation is indented and numbered, giving it the general character of an outline.

enter image description here

Others have provided good overviews of the information the report provides, some explanations have been included in the graphic above.

Because they often contain almost too many names to count, lengthy reports, such as the example, were popular "cousin bait" in the late 1990s; they may still be popular in some circles.

I once bought a book of supposed early Pennsylvania Miller genealogies. I had hoped to really learn something. When the package arrived, it was little more than hundreds and hundreds of pages of these outline descendant reports. A lot of the entries were just names and generation numbers. From the lot, I mostly learned that Miller families seemed to favor the names John and William. :-)

Below is an example of a similar report generated by FamilyTreeMaker 2010 for Mac. You'll note a different approach to the style.

enter image description here

RootsWeb's WorldConnect generates an outline descendant report from its files on command (to a maximum of 10 generations). They call it a "Descendancy report." See, "Ancestor and Descendant Reports."

  • Good work illustrating this. What tool did you use?
    – Sam
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 4:24
  • @Sam888 Thank you; I used Adobe Photoshop.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 11:44
  • 1
    Funny you should mention Miller fascination with the names John and William, My great grandfather and his son were both 'William John Miller'! Great explanation, thanks for the graphic it really helps me understand!
    – AvieRose
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 19:10
  • changed this to the 'answer'. Not to take away from all the other great answers, but feel that this is over and above the call of duty!
    – AvieRose
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 19:21
  • @AlvieRose Thank you for sharing the story of the two "John William Miller" men in your tree. Double trouble. Makes me appreciate my just Johns, Williams and Josephs. :-)
    – GeneJ
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 19:26

The numbers close to the beginning of each line are generations counting down from John Prettejohn at the top. So, John Prettjohn has a wife (shown by +) whose name is unknown and 2 sons William b 1557 and John (follow the outermost vertical line down to find him).

Under William is his wife +Elizabeth and their descendants, and so on.

The format is quite often used to represent an individual's descendants in text form, but I'm blanking on what it is called --descendants report, maybe.

  • 2
    Using indenting instead of pipe and indent: "Outline descendant report" in Family Tree Maker, "Descendancy" at WorldConnect
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 18:54

I have taken the sources and tried to clean it up a little, removed the HTML formatting, and am presenting it in a fixed-width font to make it easier to read. I have also begun editing the wrapping so each line is one and only one person's information. As others have already stated, in general the + sign indicates a spouse, the --X- marker denotes "X generations away from John Prettejohn", and the | can be used to trace descendants from one generation to the next.

As Gene mentioned, accuracy of this information should be corroborated heavily.

  • Wow, that really does make a difference! I had never come across this style of tree before.
    – AvieRose
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 20:10

It looks like this family tree uses a combination of indentation and generation numbering to describe the relationships. Each number preceding a person refers to the generation relative to the starting person. Thus children of John Prettejohn (generation 1) are William (from whom most of the tree is descended) and John. John is way at the bottom of the page. Spouses are not numbered. Dates of birth, death, and marriage are listed with each person, presuambly when they are known.

One thing to be careful about with trees like this is accuracy. Since no source information is given for any of the stated facts, you cannot be sure that they are historically accurate. Also, it is possible that there are obvious errors such as children being too old or too young for their parents, info being repeated, etc. I am not saying any of this is necessarily the case; it's just something to look out for.

  • Thanks for editing it, @fbrereto. Typing on the iPad isn't my forte! Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 20:15
  • I have made more than my share spelling mistakes and autocorrect gaffes on my iDevices; I completely understand.
    – fbrereto
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 20:19

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