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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

FamilySearch Fan Chart: View and Research Your Family Tree

FamilySearch Fan chart problem report with title your powerful free research tool

The Fan Chart view has more features than you may realize. Discover why this feature on FamilySearch provides insights into where you should spend your time when doing genealogy research.

What is the FamilySearch Fan Chart?

FamilySearch was the first to release a fan chart for online family trees. Their interactive family tree helps us visualize multiple generations in a condensed way. This is vastly different than a traditional pedigree family tree.

This family tree looks just like a handheld device waved back and forth to cool a user. The difference is that instead of using lace or decorating art, this family display showcases ancestral lines.

At the bottom center of the fan is the main person on the family tree. The subject's spouses and children are shown below that circle, while the ancestors appear in rings above.

This family tree is interactive as you can reposition the focus person by clicking on anyone in the chart and then clicking the fan chart icon. You can also click on an ancestor and view a quick snapshot of their genealogical facts.

Since its initial release, FamilySearch has enhanced many features that give you clues to your heritage and where your family tree needs a little work.

How to Customize Your Fan Chart

While you have limited options to customize a printed version of this chart, you can change how you view the online version.

First, you can expand your family tree from 4 to 7 generations. I'm often overwhelmed by 7 generations and opt to view 5 or 6 generations.

Second, you can also invert the colors. The default is a white chart on a gray background. You can switch that to a black fan on a gray background.

Then you can focus your genealogy research by changing what is highlighted. Keep reading to learn more.

Use the Chart to Research Your Family History

Several different research views can help you do further genealogy investigations on your family tree.

  • Birth Country

  • Sources

  • Stories

  • Photos

  • Research Helps

Discover the advantage and pitfalls of each view.

To see all of these views, watch this video.

VIDEO: FamilySearch Fan Charts Your Powerful Free Research tool

Birth Country View

In this view, you can see a color representing the birth country of your ancestors.

My family tree showcase has mostly Colonial America, Canada, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany as birth countries to my 7th generation.

If you see a wedge that is not colored white, that represents an unknown birth location. Those white wedges let me know I have some research to do to find the origin of several of my ancestors. Granted, they might be brick wall ancestors, but at least I have one place to benefit other genealogy researchers with my efforts.

A word of caution: The color-coding does not guarantee your family tree on this free genealogy website is correct. Don't print off and frame this view until you have validated the accuracy of the birth information.

Sources View

When you click "View Ancestors With Source," you can explore another genealogy research guide. The lighter the yellow, the fewer the sources. The darker the yellow, the more resources are attached to your ancestor on the family tree.

Please don't make the mistake that many people make when they look at this Sources Chart. An ancestor might have more than 10 sources attached to their profile, but only 2 of them might be unique documents.

I've previously discussed why there are multiple citations for the same source on FamilySearch. Keep that in mind and use this view as a guide. The individuals with fewer sources attached to them might be the place where you want to lend a hand to the family history effort.

Also, avoid the temptation to jump in an ancestor with no sources. These could be brick wall ancestors and be very difficult to explore. Or they could be false ancestors, which you would recognize as you peer review the efforts of others.

↪️ Are you looking for more genealogy resources?

Grab your copy of this FREE Genealogy Research Guide:

Fingers typing on keyboard with title 10 Online Genealogy Resources You Have to Try

Stories View

As a family historian, I do not just want to gather names for my family tree but also write my ancestors' stories along the way. The Stories View helps us know if we're memorializing our ancestors well.

You might be thinking, "I, I don't. I don't have any stories!"

If that's you, then you're in the right place. In my Facebook group and on this blog, you will discover tips and tricks for writing family histories. These tips are based primarily on my book A Recipe for Writing Family History, which had helped people write when they thought they knew nothing about their relatives.

If your family tree has found everyone from you back to ancient times, then click on this view and see where you can help preserve and document your legacy.

Photos View

Not every ancestor will have photos because they're further back in time, the fewer images are available.

However, you can use this view to see if scanned documents or photographed artifacts appear on your family tree. If they don't appear there and you have such images, consider sharing your family history on the tree.

DON'T clutter up FamilySearch with flags, flowers, ships, and other graphic icons. It's okay if your ancestor doesn't have a photo.

Research Helps View

The final view is where the research magic happens. In this view, you can explore notification from FamilySearch about potential data problems, record hints, and research suggestions.

As you research your family tree using this view, try to get the fan chart to be all white (or black in the inverted view) but resolving all the research helps. Once you do that, change the focus person and start over again.

FamilySearch fan chart with overlay discover the power of the fan chart
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Discover the Power of the Fan Chart

This is a powerful view for you to be utilizing the fan chart not just to make a cool picture to show off your family tree but also to leverage it to know where you can spend your time and in researching and preserving the memories of your ancestors for fun.

For more FamilySearch Tips, check out these posts:

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