how can I create horizontally oriented timelines and family trees?
February 25, 2018 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I hope it's ok to consolidate these questions, although one is probably simpler than the other. History note-taking and info-charting nerds, I know you're out there, help a sister out.

So I need to do a couple things that my current tool/knowledge set isn't letting me do.

1. I need to create family trees (as part of historical research.) This is the sort of thing that I want to be able to create. What's the simplest program for making these? The ideal tool would let me input the data and have some sort of interface for arranging it usefully on the page (but even just a way of inputting and arranging the nodes manually would be a step up from what I'm doing now, which is on a whiteboard.)

2. Hopefully this one is simple: I need to create documents without a right margin limit. (I need this for making timelines.) I like using Google Docs for writing projects when I can, but I haven't figured out a way to make it (or Word) let me extend docs to the right indefinitely. What can I use?

posted by fingersandtoes to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are on Facebook, this group's files probably have something.'s user tree interface is like this. You can get a free trial, or perhaps use it a your library.
posted by jgirl at 1:09 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest as well. I think you can build a family tree without a paid membership; you need to pay for a membership if you want to search their records (census records, immigration records, etc.). You can download the file too, so you’re not always tied that website.
posted by Empidonax at 1:37 PM on February 25, 2018

Family Search might be useful to you- it is free (though you might want to know it is owned by the Mormon church), it allows you to access a lot of what you pay for on ancestry, and they have the option to print out a variety of styles of family trees.
posted by momochan at 1:57 PM on February 25, 2018

I wasn't clear, sorry. I'm not making a tree of my family. I'm doing things like charting out dynasties. Will see if ancestry's tool is helpful, thank you!
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:57 PM on February 25, 2018

So these seem to be services for making your own family tree, and they seem real interested in making me create an account and connecting a resulting tree with me, which is not at all what I need.

What I'm looking for is just a tool to make the charts, if anyone can recommend something like that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:10 PM on February 25, 2018

Well, I would definitely check out that Facebook group I linked. You can just join and silently lurk and comb through the files. I'll look myself, too.
posted by jgirl at 3:14 PM on February 25, 2018

If I were to set out doing what you want to do on both questions, I'd open Visio.
posted by General Malaise at 3:16 PM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Visio looks awesome but more than I want to spend at this point... jgirl, thank you so much for offering to look, that's super kind; I'm reluctant to join another FB group at this point...
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:22 PM on February 25, 2018

Ah, well, if you're looking for relatively painless and free as in open source, you can probably get about 95% of the way with a vector illustrator program. I think the standard for best in the open source community is still Inkscape. It won't be as close to perfect as Visio, but it'll be better than a whiteboard or trying to finagle a Google document.
posted by General Malaise at 3:31 PM on February 25, 2018

You could use Omnigraffle, which has a 15 day free trial.

You can also use some of the ones linked in this post, which includes:
posted by suedehead at 3:43 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

You mention Word in your question; Microsoft has templates for family tree-making and other organizational charts.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:29 PM on February 25, 2018

I don't know whether this info will be of any use to you, but I set up my family info in an Excel spreadsheet using an Ahnentafel style chart. Here's some info I found to explain it, and to add that you can add siblings or cousins or other relatives of the same generation by adding a row with a number such as 2.1 for your father sibling. That way, if you need to do a sort, the number will stay together. If you need more more info, let me know. Here's the link: Ahnentafel chart
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:12 PM on February 25, 2018

2nding OmniGraffle
posted by Cogito at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2018

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