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Pedigree Schmedigree!


I love the above photo, obviously taken before the TV became the focal point in the "front room", because it depicts how many of us remember Christmases Past.

Fuzzy. Out of focus.

But we could be pretty sure every person present for Christmas dinner was our grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, or cousin.


Fast forward 50 or 60 years...

Between Thanksgiving and the weekend after Christmas, many Americans gather with family or friends to exchange gifts and best wishes and consume enough food to feed a Third World village for a month.

Such occasions often include that great American tribal ritual, Watching Football, where we sit around yelling at guys paid millions to be away from their own families on national holidays so we won't have to actually talk to people we never see - or don't want to see - except at the holidays.

Pedigree charts aren't just for AKA-registered, pure-bred puppies or royalty or Old Money Blue Bloods. Even if the only papers associated with your puppy are the ones you read with your morning coffee, or you only took the wheels off your home last week, you already can have one, too.

Something called the "Rule of 14" (2+4+8=14) applies to every person on the planet, even adoptees and those conceived in a petri dish. It simply means two biological parents, four biological grandparents, and eight biological great-grandparents. You may not know them, or even know their names (yet), but they exist - or did exist at some point - or you wouldn't be here reading this.

That's just the way it works, and has since the beginning of time.

Back in the days of "Til death do us part", it was easy for a child to keep track of how people were related to each other. Your parents' brothers and sisters were your aunts and uncles, their children were your cousins, your siblings' spouses were your brothers- and sisters-in-law, and their children were your nieces or nephews.


These days, single parents and "his, hers, and ours" families are the norm, not the exception. Grandpa's third wife insists on being called "Grandma" by the children of his children from his first marriage, and pouts if they don't (or won't).

Personally, I think children are the losers when the boundaries of their identity are blurred with "aunts", "uncles", "grandmas" and "grandpas" who aren't related to them in any way other than by virtue of whatever relationship the parent happens to have with that person at the moment.

Call me a prude, but such blurring diminishes the "specialness" of those who truly are blood relatives. No wonder many children feel they don't "belong" anywhere. How confusing for a child if every older woman who visits is "Grandma", or every older man is "Uncle" or "Grandpa", rather than introduced simply (and correctly) as "my friend Helen" or "my friend George" or "Mr./Mrs. Such-and-such".

[Right here, I have to tell you that I had to eat a bit of crow several months after I published this when my son's 5-yr-old stepdaughter, whose own biological grandmothers she rarely sees because they live so far away, took me aside to ask if she could call me "Grandma" same as my grandson, her half-brother. Her solemn expression said this was not only very important to her, but that she'd given it a lot of thought, so naturally I said "Yes".]

Simple 4-generation pedigree chart.

Simple 4-generation pedigree chart.

A blank fan chart. Click to view full size.

A blank fan chart. Click to view full size.

Clarifying who begat who isn't rocket science.

Compiling a pedigree chart, also known as a family tree, is an easy way to avoid confusion and clarify who begat who.

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The simplest method for recording your own or a child's 2-4-8 is on a diagram like the top one above, similar to Rudolph's antlers depicted above the previous section. (No, he isn't suffering from a debilitating antler disease...)

Filling in a 4-generation pedigree chart is easy. Enter the appropriate name on each line (maiden name for females) and underneath each, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death (if deceased).

On a 4-gen chart, males are on top and females on the bottom. (I didn't make the rules, ladies!) On a fan chart, paternal ancestors go on the left, maternal on the right.

Don't worry if you don't have all the information yet - gathering it will give you something to do during lulls in The Game at holiday get togethers. Yes, this means you may have to actually talk to some of those relatives you can't stand, but it's a holiday for heavens sake.

But if you really can't tear yourself away from the game, your children can make the rounds and gather the information for you instead of, if they're teenagers, running off to the mall (or texting each other ad nauseam from across the room).

The 7-gen fan chart above is a bit more complicated, and not to be approached by the faint of heart. Fan charts can be purchased from most genealogical or family history suppliers, or you can copy and paste the one here to an imaging program and print it on legal-size paper (8.5" X 14").

But if you're a truly brave soul and really really good with drafting tools, draw one on the paper of your choice. The key is to start with a perfect circle at bottom-center and work out from there.

No matter which chart you use, filling it in isn't as difficult as it sounds.

For a fan chart, begin at the first generation (yourself or your child/ren) and work your way out. Meaning your writing hand will be resting on the lettering for each previous generation, so to avoid smudging, place a blank sheet of paper under your hand as you work.

The father's side of the family goes on the left and the mother's on the right.

Below is how the fan chart will look when filled in (minus the red labels, of course). Click to view full size.

The center portion of a completed fan chart. Click to view full size.

The center portion of a completed fan chart. Click to view full size.

Don't be upset if you can't fill all the slots. After diligent searching, at some point you may have to accept that an ancestor's records were lost forever to fire or flood, or dates and names were never recorded in the first place. Veteran family historians who've been at this for decades have many blank spots in their own charts.

Although paper is the best medium for making copies, pedigree charts don't necessarily have to be on paper. A family named Stephens of York County, Pennsylvania, had theirs woven into a large rug. Imagine the work that went into making that!

Another family used twigs to fashion a miniature tree inside a shadow box, with paper leaves containing the names of each family member and his/her spouse and their children hot-glued to the appropriate branches.

The possibilities are endless!

Use your imagination!

It's wise, however, to use a medium where additional generations can be added without destroying the original.


jandee from Liverpool.U.K on February 10, 2012:

Thanks Jama, nice of you to tell me this stuff,bye for now,


Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on February 10, 2012:

jandee, it's easy to get lost when you first start climbing a family tree. Good for you for wanting to give it another go! Just remember the fan style chart can only include direct ancestors, so if you want to keep track of any children in a family besides your directs, you'll have to use family group sheets, not included here but widely available for download online or at your local genealogy or historical society. Good luck and don't give up! ;D

jandee from Liverpool.U.K on February 09, 2012:

Started a few years ago and it got me really lost. I think I might have a go again with the 'fan' style !

Thanks Jama , good sense and aunts .


Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on February 09, 2012:

jandee, my computer also does that every now and then. Hope yours rights itself soon!

jandee from Liverpool.U.K on February 09, 2012:

Hello Jama,

my computer has gone nervous and keeps flicking down to a lot of very interesting comments . Hopefully it will settle down and I shall be able to enjoy your writing,

back soon,


Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on December 10, 2011:

Peggy, being a pet owner with no children is no excuse. The cousin who "connected the dots" between my dad and the above mentioned 4th cousin has no kids but raises show dogs. Calls them her "four-legged kids". lol!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 09, 2011:

I know some other people who "accidentally" find cousins and relatives and have a great time meeting them as adults and matching faces and personalities with the names that they have found while delving into genealogy records. If we had children, I would probably be more interested. Our pets could care less about our "pedigrees" as long as they get their normal amount of loving and daily treats from us. Something to be said for that! :))

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on October 14, 2011:

You're most welcome, Ethel! Autumn and winter are traditionally when most people start or re-start genealogy, if they haven't spent the summer traveling to cemeteries and ancestral homes. But never give up for good.

I, too, gave up genealogy for 4 years and only got back into it to help a friend find his roots. While doing that, I met a woman online who became a my closest "research buddy" on my mother's side and whose husband turned out to be my dad's 4th cousin! ;D

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on October 14, 2011:

Interesting. I have gone so far with genealogy and given up. Might start again this winter thanks

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on September 28, 2011:

Yes, Nell, trying to find one's roots when the mother barely knew the father will be difficult if not impossible. In fact a friend in his 40s, the product of a one-night stand, has never been able to learn the identify of his biological father. Very sad.

Nell Rose from England on September 28, 2011:

Hi, this is such a good idea, and as you said, it can be so confusing these days, in the past it was so much more simple, I feel sorry for people trying to find long lost relatives in a few years time, especially in this day and age of 16 year old girls having three kids by three different fathers! so much for womens lib, bah humbug! lol!

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on July 25, 2011:

In that context, I don't have a problem with children calling someone "Aunt" or "Uncle". But I do have when a parent insists kids bestow this "honor" on every new acquaintance who may or may not stick around for longer than a few hours/days/weeks. ;D

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2011:

We actually had an honorary aunt and uncle. My mother's best friend all through high school got married as did my mother and the men really liked one another as well. They each became godparents to one child of each family. Funny thing is that as an adult their oldest child Mary admitted to us (when both of our fathers were already gone and our mothers were visiting each other) that she thought the relationship was real not honorary. We all had a good laugh over that. Just proves that this may be more confusing to kids than we think! :)

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on July 25, 2011:

It pains me to admit that I recently became part of the "unrelated grandma" syndrome. For reasons too complicated to go into here, my grandson's half-sister has been separated from both real grandmas. When she asked if she could call me "Grandma", it seemed cruel to refuse. For a 4-year-old, she's quite intelligent and aware, so I sense she understands that it's an honorary title and when she's older we'll have to come up with something different.

Glad to hear a younger generation is interested in your family's history! Yay!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2011:

I agree with you totally. It can be very confusing for kids growing up in this day and age with all those extra "grandmas and grandpas" not to mention other so-called relatives that truly are not blood related. Rather waters down the true meanings of the words. Speaking of words, in the South there are so many nicknames for grandma and grandpa...things like meemaw, pawpaw and others so peculiar that only the family would know the reference as to meaning.

I got a kick out of your reference to family gatherings with kids texting the kids across the room. You are too funny...but sadly accurate.

Have to get back to forwarding more information that I have about my paternal grandmother's side of the family to the daughter of a first cousin who is compiling information about that side of the family. Thanks for the nudge! Will send her more information soon.

Jon Green from Frome, Somerset, UK on December 17, 2009:

Nice hub. Those with Scottish ancestors could try, preferably with - I am back to 1660 now, albeit in a patchy manner.Passenger lists can really help too.

Cheers, Jon Green

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on March 08, 2009:

Hi, katyzzz. Even with hard-to-sort-out families, the 2-4-8 rule applies, no matter what the extras are labeled (or label themselves).

katyzzz from Sydney, Australia on March 08, 2009:

You've put a lot of work into this Jama and put forward some solid foundations, I only wish you could sort my family out, I think they think they never had a mother, but I am she, undoubtedly

Proud Mom from USA on January 29, 2009:

Wow, Jama! I wish I would have read this before Cousin Ethyl and her little darlings departed after another fine, down-home Christmas spent patching Uncle Festus' banjo that was not properly secured on the plane ride over. Cleta Sue forgot to stock up on duct tape before the trip, and Festus thought he could improvise. He learned a lesson or two about packing this holiday season. Ultimately, we were not able to repair it, so we hosted the most honorable burial we could manage in the frigid temperatures.

Anywho, I'm liking the fan shaped document. My line of ancestry has so many forks, about ten years ago, they began forming circles. That fan shape might make it easier.

In all seriousness, I tried to make a quilt a few years back documenting my mom's parents and her siblings and their kids, and their kids' kids, and yes, even their kids' kids' kids. There were so many "this child by first marriage, these children by second marriage, no children by the third, this child without marriage." I just gave up. I like the 2-4-8 scenario. I will provide that for my kids when one of them decides to do a quilt on their parents and siblings.

Really a great hub. You have a wonderful passion, but then, you knew that, didn't you? Grocery shopping here in about 2 hours. Can you make it by? Should be extra-entertaining, as my usual shenanigans will be accompanied by 4-5 inches of solid ice. This time, though, after the laughter dies down, come in. I'll buy a can of cashews just for you.

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on January 03, 2009:

Excellent point, KS Charles! Glad you could drop by!

KS Charles on January 03, 2009:

Excellent Hub..not only for bringing those long-ago Christmas memories front and center again...but for the reminder that the history of our family that WE preserve will be the memories our children and future generations will treasure. Thank you!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on December 29, 2008:

LOL...Thanks for reminding me. That virtual coffee was the only New Year's resolution I was planning to make at the time, and already I had forgotten it. The storage tub is going to be a real challenge now!

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on December 28, 2008:

Sally's Trove, I'm so glad this hub struck a chord. But don't be sad that you didn't get those stories. Instead, be *glad* that you have the pictures, scraps of letters and notes, mementos, and maps to pass on to your daughter. If lack of time prevents you from recording what you know, at least purchase a storage tub with a lid and gather all those things in one place until you *can* put them in order and add your own memories of the Dearly Departed.

We're still on for Virtual Coffee on Jan 2nd, right?

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on December 28, 2008:

Your Hub moved me in many ways, from being delighted with the tree metaphor of family and Christmas, to feeling sad that I did not capture more stories from my relatives who are now gone.

Through the years, I've acquired pictures, scraps of letters and notes, mementos, and even detailed maps of where my midwest roots began, but they are scattered about my house...I've never collected them in one place, let alone recorded the genealogy I know.

Your Hub is inspiring. I am the last of my father's line (which is why I never changed my name when I married), and if I don't put these things together for my daughter, I don't see how anyone else will. I think I'll share my thoughts with Robie2 and a few others and then follow Robie2's plan for keeping a New Year's resolution!

Thanks for a great Hub and its attending kick in my butt.

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on December 21, 2008:

HopeBaby: "Ah, shucks", she says (blushing). But I'm not too humbled to say THANKS! Glad you and your family (and friends!) enjoyed my musings. Getting together sounds great...Santa, are ya listenin'? Toytyme needs a ticket to MCI (because there's only one of her and *three* of us).

SilverBeth, what a surprise to see you here! Been meaning to call you. God love the Dees of the world, but second wives often try too hard to erase all memory of the mother of the stepkids. Your mother (R.I.P) was one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable. But even when the first wife is alive, my attitude is "You got the husband, now have some kids of your own and leave hers alone". Okay, off the soapbox.

SilverBeth on December 21, 2008:

Yo, Jo Baby! Lovely hub and extremely well written too. Totally agree on the family titles part, Dee will never be Mom to me. Miss you and the curtain climbers, most of whom have curtain climbers of their own by now. Sheesh! Call me, the number's the same and so is the addy.

HopeBaby from Midwest on December 21, 2008:

Wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed this hub and I shared with with all my siblings and children. Then I shared it with my friends. One of these days we really must get together. We are so close in proximity! Maybe we can get our CA friend to fly out when it warms up.

TOYTYME on December 20, 2008:

Yet another great Hub by you! Just figured out why I'm not in the spirit of things anymore after reading your latest! The old Christmas gatherings were surely the best. While hanging up the stockings this year, I ran into those of ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends, ex-wives of my son, and an ex-husband stocking of my daughters. I think I had more ex stockings than I had ones to hang! Having the traditional Christmas eve dinner here, with a very untraditional meat platter tray, salads and appetizers & desserts. There was no way I was cooking another turkey since I just did that four weeks ago. Besides the kids are always in a rush to get to their gifts and don't eat anyway, and the adults fill up on appetizers anyway. I hope you and your's have a wonderful Christmas, and may the new coming year bring you much peace, happiness and prosperity. May Santa drop you off a ticket to CA so you can come see me and keep warm *s*

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on December 17, 2008:

Amber90, growing your "Network" IS fun because as you said, you [re]discover closeness to non-immediate family members. And isn't reaching out as much a part of the holidays as gathering? Here's to reaching and gathering!

Amber90 on December 17, 2008:

I think my thoughts have already been written above - I have recently started reaching out to family members (not the immediate ones) with my mother and it becomes quite fun growing your "Network" and discovering how close you have really been the entire time.

Merry Christmas

Joanna McKenna (author) from Central Oklahoma on December 16, 2008:

Yes, isn't it amazing, robie2, how interesting formerly-boring family stories become when the "fluttering wings of mortality" begin to be felt on a bald head. Loved that phrasing, btw. What a wonderful wordsmith you are!

Rob, thanks for the kind words, and *do* read the history your father put so much effort into. He did it for you, you know, and for the grandchildren and every other generation to follow. You'll be amazed, too, at how much you learn about yourself while reading it. I know I certainly did while reading about my own ancestors!

Rob Jundt from Midwest USA on December 16, 2008:

Very well done hub. My father is the family tree man in our family. I have a large history he compiled a few years ago in my desk. I should really read it more. He put a lot of work into it.

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on December 16, 2008:

Well good yule and Merry Chirstmas yourownself, Jama:-) What a great Christmas hub this is. The older I get the smaller my family gets and the more they tend to be my descendants not my antecedants, but it is true that lately my children are more interested in hearing all those family stories that used to bore them--I guess they are feeling the fluttering of the wings of mortality over their balding heads. Maybe a fan chart would be a good idea. Thanks and thumbs up!

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