History and Symbolism

Family tree art—those delicate maps of lineage—have graced our collective consciousness for centuries. They are more than genealogical diagrams; they are living narratives that bridge generations. Let us explore the artistry and symbolism woven into these arboreal works of art.

The Roots of Our Heritage

Across cultures and epochs, family trees have been a mainstay of family and cultural tradition. Consider the Royal lineage charts of medieval Europe, their inked tendrils reaching back centuries. These scrolls, adorned with gold leaf and crimson ink, whispered of power, alliances, and dynastic destinies. In China, scholars meticulously preserved genealogies on delicate scrolls, honoring ancestors with brush strokes. And in the heart of Rajasthan, India, the Mehrangarh Fort houses a celestial family tree—a luminous lineage of queens and kings, their names shimmering like constellations. Our family trees mirror the ebb and flow of history, revealing both grand narratives and quiet family secrets.

The Artistry Unveiled

How has family tree art evolved over the eons? You might be surprised by some of these examples from around the world!

Biblical Patriarchs from Adam to the Great Flood
Photo: https://www.si.edu/object/antediluvian-record-endicott-and-company%3Anmah_324739

The ancestry of Biblical patriarchs from Adam to the Deluge, or Great Flood, is depicted in this genealogy print, which was created by Endicott and Company about 1873. “Antediluvian” refers to the time period before the Deluge as it is recorded in Genesis 6:11–9.19 of the Bible. The word means “before the flood.”

A Russian Royal Pedigree Mural
 Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko

Imagine standing before a mural that spans centuries—a visual tapestry of czars, empresses, and noble bloodlines. In Moscow’s State Historical Museum of Russia, such a masterpiece exists. The family tree of the rulers of Russia created by the Russian artist F. Toropov in 1883 is not merely a family tree; it’s an opulent saga etched in gold leaf and royal blue. Each figure tells a story—a whisper of power, intrigue, and dynastic destiny.

Pioneer Family Tree
Source: https://collections.si.edu/search/detail/edanmdm:saam_1998.84.46

Family tree art is not just for royalty. This pen and ink on paperboard piece depicts not only the lineage of Americans William M. and Sallie Ann Cross, but tells a story of the family’s pioneering past. It was thought to have been created by an unknown artist after 1934.

A “Crooked” Family Tree
See page for author, CC BY 4.0
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is an engraving of unknown origins depicting a family tree with the parents occupying the center surrounded by their progeny. Each of the figures appears to be suffering from some kind of inherited deformity, but even in its strangeness, one has to appreciate the whimsy and playfulness of this unique family tree art.

A Dynasty Family Tree Monument
SpreeTom, CC BY-SA 4.0
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A family tree of the Alaouite dynasty is on display in front of Hassan Tower in Rabat. Hassan Tower or Tour Hassan is the minaret of an incomplete mosque in Rabat, Morocco. It was commissioned by Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur, the third caliph of the Almohad Caliphate, near the end of the 12th century. The tower was intended to be the largest minaret in the world, and the mosque, if completed, would have been the largest in the western Muslim world. 

Uncle Sam’s Family Tree
http://maps.bpl.org, CC BY 2.0
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The United States Library of Congress is home to this wacky family tree. Uncle Sam’s family is a peculiar mash-up of real-life people, made-up characters, and metaphorical symbols. Picture Paul Bunyan and George Washington sharing a branch, with Lady Liberty perched on a limb. It’s a lighthearted homage to American creativity and identity.

Calling Card Collage Family Tree
Source: https://www.rawpixel.com/image/9085753/album-page-portraits

It was popular during the Victorian Era to exchange likenesses on photographic calling cards. Collages were created by cutting up such cards and other photo-matter. These  portraits may have been used to chart a family tree or friend group. Several subjects appear more than once in different outfits and scenarios. The sheer variety of these images, so inconsistently styled and printed, suggests that they were compiled by an amateur collector, rather than a commercial studio.

Tips for Creating Your Own Unique Family Tree Art

Ready to craft your own masterpiece? Here are some tips:

  1. Research: Dive into archives, interview elders, and follow the breadcrumbs of history. Unearth the buried roots and lost leaves—the unsung heroes and the black sheep.
  2. Visualization Tools: Embrace technology. Use software or online platforms to create your digital family tree. Add photos, anecdotes, and even audio clips. Let your tree breathe and grow.
  3. Collaboration: Gather your clan. Invite cousins, aunts, and uncles to contribute. Their memories, like fallen leaves, enrich the soil of your tree.
Heart-to-Heart Family Tree

Idea: Create a heart-shaped family tree using colored paper or cardstock. Cut out heart shapes for each family member, including grandparents, parents, siblings, and cousins. This is a great activity to do with the kids!

Chalkboard Family Tree
Source: https://www.yourhomebasedmom.com/diy-family-tree-chalkboard-2/

Idea: Turn a chalkboard or chalkboard-painted surface into a family tree. Write family members’ names directly on the chalkboard using chalk pens. You can create branches, leaves, and even add small photos next to each name.

Tutorial: Check out this project from Your Homebased Mom.

Wooden Family Tree
Source: https://imaginecraftsblog.com/2021/04/19/learn-how-to-make-a-wooden-wall-art-family-tree/

Idea: Craft a wooden family tree using blank wooden tree shapes and paint.  

Tutorial: Get the steps for this project on imaginecraftsblog.com.

Family Tree Shadow Box

Idea: Create a 3D family tree inside a shadow box for some cool wall art.

Tutorial: Learn how to create these shadow boxes in this Stephanie Dee Creates video tutorial.

Love Letters Family Tree

Idea: Why not use letters and leaves cut from old photocopy sheets to create your family tree art? Some possible items could be marriage documents, street maps, newspaper articles, and love letters.

Tutorial: Here’s a tutorial from Thistlewood Farms.

Bottle Caps Family Tree

Idea: Repurpose or buy bottle caps as frames for your family photos. It’s a quirky and eco-friendly approach.

Tutorial: Use this Valentine Picture Tree tutorial from Crafty Sisters to create your bottle cap family tree!

Thumbprint Family Tree

Idea: Although this idea was once intended for a guest book for a wedding, it also works nicely for a family tree. Allow the children to imprint their own fingerprints and use yours to fill in the ancestors.

Tutorial: Grab a free fingerprint tree download and get inspired by this One Fab Day tutorial.

Family Tree Art from Words

Idea: Why not use words to display your family’s roots and connections?

Tutorial: Dive into this Craft Patch Blog tutorial.

Quilted Family Tree
Source: https://thecraftymonkey.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/family-tree-quilt/

Idea: The possibilities are endless for creating a quilted family tree!

Tutorial: If you have some skill with a needle and thread, try this version from The Crafty Monkey.  Like mixed media? Then give this unique idea by The Quiltmaker Homestead using fabric paint, photos printed on fabric, and an art projector a try!

Family Tree Wreath
Source: https://www.jennuineblog.com/2011/10/family-tree-wreath-tutorial-free.html

Idea: Create a wreath that celebrates your family year-round.

Tutorial: Find a tutorial for this project at jennuineblog.com.

The Family Tree Art Legacy

Family tree art transcends mere genealogy. These unique works of art invite us to look deeper into our family and collective cultural histories and appreciate how each individual story contributes to a beautiful, sprawling narrative that has played out over time. So, study famous family tree art or choose an idea that resonates with you! Gather your materials and embark on a creative journey to honor and pass down your family’s story in a very special piece of art.

Need to stock up on craft supplies? You’ll find a wide selection of superior products at Blick Art Materials!

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