12 Cheap, DIY Family Tree Ideas for Large Families


With the rise of at-home DNA testing, people are becoming more interested in learning about their family history. A DNA test can tell you a little information about your ancestry, but one of the best ways to fill in the gaps is through a family tree.

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With both DNA and family stories, you can translate oral history into written history to preserve the unique story of your family. It’s especially important to fill out your family tree while the older generations are around to share the names of their older relatives.

You don’t want the names of those who came before you lost to time. Here are some clever ideas for family trees you can make on your own.

Family Tree Ideas for Kids or for a Classroom

Family trees are a great way to let children know about previous generations but also help them learn more about their family’s experiences during key historical moments.

There are different levels of family trees you can put together depending on ages and grade levels. 

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1. Construction paper apple tree

For kids in kindergarten through second grade, making a construction paper tree is a fun way to help them literally "piece together" their family. Spread out some different colored construction paper and help your child cut out apples and write the names of their immediate family members on it.

Then with your guidance, they can glue the apples onto the tree. Talking about family while helping your child place each family member on each "branch" can help foster both historical knowledge, creativity and also just some plain ol’ bonding time.

2. Make a large classroom family tree

Sometimes we end up with friends so close that they feel like family, and teaching children about these close bonds can be a great way to introduce "chosen families."

If you’re a teacher, make a big tree on the classroom wall or door. Ask the kids in your classroom to bring in a photograph of themselves, and have them mount it on a paper plate with their names on it.

By putting up the kids together on branches based on shared tables, lunch groups or anything, kids can learn more about the bonds of friendship. 

Change their placements on the tree throughout the year to help encourage new friendships as well. By showing the shifting nature of families, kids can not only look at this to remember the "friends that are like family," but also how families can change and grow over time.

3. Photo garden

Maybe it isn’t even about a tree, but creating something like a little family garden can help children discover all the people who love them. Help your child print out pictures of your children, you, their immediate family, pets, and even some close family friends.

Again like before, spread out pieces of different colored construction paper and cut out shapes of flowers and pots. Have your child affix a picture of themselves on a flower and place it in a pot.

Likewise, help them do the same for all other family members, and place them together in a paper garden. They can have one flower to represent each individual member of their family. 

If you’re a teacher helping children with this project, help them write their names on each of their flowerpots and tack them on the classroom wall. By displaying each garden, kids can see how every family looks different.

4. Family history journal

Developing a family tree is not just an arts and crafts project for children either. Kids between the ages of 12 through 19 can also create a family tree of their own to connect their family to historical moments and place their family members throughout different generations. 

Perhaps a good starting point would be to create a family history journal, where these kids can practice their reporter skills and interview family members about previous generations.

In the end, hopefully, each young person can sketch out a larger family tree with extensions or branches to each parent and other close relatives.

They can discover how their families immigrated and where they lived prior to moving to another country, on top of any military history or other important events as part of their own family history.

Family Tree Ideas for a Family Reunion

Family reunions can be a great time to delve deeper into your family history. Other family members like aunts and uncles can provide some fun or interesting context into how another person married into the family.

One of the more useful parts of creating or expanding a family tree during a reunion is that you’ll also be able to double-check basic details with all your family members. It’s kind of like a spin-off of the "family history journal," but with more hopefully raucous or touching anecdotes.

5. Thumbprint family trees

A really endearing way of documenting your family history can be through a thumbprint family tree.

If you are a decent sketch artist with knowledge of a few family generations, you can help sprout this idea. Getting some really nice paper with ample space will definitely help in this endeavor to help you bring this tree to life.

By contrast, if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, perhaps ask another family member to help draw a tree, print out a pre-made family tree pattern, or purchase a family tree book. 

Write the names of family members in the appropriate spaces, and leave blanks for others you might not know. Lay the tree out on a table with ink pads in various colors.

Have each family member find their name on the tree, press their thumb on the inkpad, and finally place their inky print by their name. With each thumbprint representing a colorful leaf on a tree, your family can see the full family history burst into life. 

6. Family tree quilt

Sometimes the warm feeling of history helps to bring families together. Or maybe everyone in your family just really likes to sew. Regardless, if you’re looking to make a nice keepsake for a family member, making a family tree quilt can really bring it up a notch.

Bring several swatches of colorful fabric to your family reunion cut out into the shapes of leaves. If you’ve got it, bring a quilt with you that already has a tree trunk stitched onto it. Otherwise, consider doing some extra work to either make a quilt with this pre-existing pattern or maybe find it online.

You can get the people in the family who sew to take turns stitching the leaves onto the existing tree trunk structure. There’s an old saying that goes “many hands make light work.”

You’ll get a quilt done in record time, and it will become a treasured heirloom for family members to enjoy. If you have an annual family reunion, make this a tradition. Each year, a new branch of the family tree can get their own quilt.  

7. Create a written family history

A visual representation of a family tree might not cut it for the history buffs in your brood. A small book about your family history could be the answer for all those who want to know more, or are looking for hidden information in the family tree. 

You can start by interviewing everyone at a family reunion. You can speak with aunts, uncles, distant cousins — anyone who can provide insight into where you came from. Bring a voice recorder so you can really listen and engage with people without worrying about taking notes.

This kind of project may be a multi-day endeavor, so maybe you can schedule both one-on-one interviews and also host group interviews. Sometimes one person’s stories can jog the memories of other people. 

After you’re done with the interviews, you can review the recordings and organize a written history by each generation or by every other decade, whatever helps to segment each stage.

Putting together a booklet like this could make an extremely touching gift for older family members who wish to revisit memories of their youth, or even for you.

8. Make a memory board for family members who have passed away

At a family reunion, conversations might turn to reminiscing about those who are no longer with you all. Inevitably, some nostalgia can run heavily through everyone’s minds on a particular date, so a way to capture some of this emotion could be through a memory board.

Family members can bring their favorite photos of their loved ones, and everyone can work together to paste pictures on a board showcasing all these pictures and connected memories. 

With the memory of a loved one fresh on your mind, creating this kind of memory board alongside your family can help everyone feel as though they are still around in some way. It can also help younger members of the family learn about other family members they didn’t know.

Family Tree Ideas to Keep at Home

There is honestly no better place to showcase a family tree than at home. There are so many DIY projects that can help you incorporate family tree elements into your decor.

Here are some clever ways to bring this element into your interior design. 

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9. Family tree decal

Wall decals have become a popular way to add character to your living space. They bring in a visual focal point without overwhelming the space.

In particular, wall decals can often be peeled off and reused. For this kind of project, you can get large tree-shaped wall decals on Etsy and at some home improvement or department stores.

Mount the decal on one wall and personalize it with photographs of your family. The photographs can be mounted on paper, or you can have them professionally framed with their names written underneath so you can remember each and every one.

10. Family tree shadow box

Adding a bit of gravitas and visual drama to a family tree can be fun, and can also change the visual metaphor of a family tree. Shadow boxes bring elements of portability and also more creative opportunities to weave a family story together.

With a large box and potential clear display on one side, you can incorporate actual twigs to fashion an actual three-dimensional tree. With leaves cut out of craft paper to add decor, you can nestle photos of your family members into the branches. In addition, if new babies are born into the family, you can open up the shadow box and add in new photos.

This one-of-a-kind display can follow you from house to house, and also follow the family through future generations.     

11. Family tree cross stitch

If you’re the crafty type, you can find several family tree cross stitch kits and patterns to create your own little cross-stitch. The kits and patterns can range from simple to incredibly detailed and complex.

Make one with all the family members you know, and then leave some empty spaces for future additions to the family. When it’s complete (or at least current and up to date), frame it and hang it on your wall.

Cross-stitches look great in homes with thrifted furniture, or in a rustic farmhouse. But beyond being cute decor, they have a lot of personal meaning. 

12. Three-dimensional family tree

As mentioned before, some family trees end up feeling a little flat. Bringing a family tree to life can be as easy as finding a beautiful little potted tree like a dogwood or birch.

Once you’ve selected your tree, you can make cute dangling ornaments featuring family photos and hang them from a small tree. You can also hang them from a small pine tree during the holiday season.

This helps you feel like your family is close by during the holidays no matter how far away they may be.  

Cheap and Fun DIY Family Tree Projects

Family trees are a wonderful way to preserve your family history. You can make it for yourself, or give it as a gift to a loved one. A handmade DIY family tree is a creative way to honor someone.

It’s also a great tool to educate yourself and your children on where they come from. A DIY family tree can help you remember a family member, or just learn more about where you come from.  

If you're looking for more family tradition or tree inspiration, read our guides on family reunion gift ideas, family reunion activity ideas, and family tradition ideas.

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