Building the Family Tree

Hello, everyone! I know it’s been a while since my last actual post, and I apologize for that. But, as you’ll see, I’ve been one busy chica!

This past weekend was my family reunion. Every September we gather together near what used to be my great-grandparent’s farm. The place where my grandmother and her brothers and sisters (eleven total) grew up. A place where I spent many fun days as a child, and think fondly of to this day. 

As you can imagine, that family is rather large now, and when we get together, it can be quite the event! With a family that size, I know that even for my own part, I have a hard time remembering who’s who, and how I’m related to them. I also know that for newcomers to the family, it can be a daunting thing to attempt to meet these new people and learn who they are in relation to yourself. 

So I had an idea. I thought it would be very helpful to have a visual representation of the family, so you can see where you are on the tree, and how you’re related to someone else, and just how many people actually are in the family (since not everyone always shows up at the reunions).

What better way to see all of that, than a family tree?

I emailed my grand-aunt, the one that has figured out all of our family’s history, and has, written down, all of the family’s information. “I’d like to make a giant family tree,” I told her, “but I need the information for it from you.”

She agreed to help me with the information I needed, and asked if I’d really thought about the work I was getting into (she knew me as a small child, and I’m sure can at least guess at my propensity to bite of quite a bit more than I can chew sometimes). I assured her that I did think it through, and started my work.

Famly Tree SketchesFor about two months, we emailed back and forth about the logistics of the tree, and I began sketching out each individual branch of the tree on it’s own paper. Once I had each branch sketched out and approved (to prevent errors) by my grand-aunt, I moved on to sketching a scale model of the tree.

From there, it was time to roll out the 20×20 Canvas I’d ordered for this project.

It never fails to surprise you how big things are when you actually see it all laid out. I unrolled the canvas in our basement, which is finished, but devoid of a lot of furniture at the moment (thank goodness). The canvas would fit one way, but not the other, so I had to roll up the top and the bottom of the canvas to work on drawing the tree onto it. 

First, we rolled a few 2x4s up in the top and the bottom of the canvas, with holes in the boards in the top so we could string rope through to hang it. 

Drawing the Family TreeWorking one branch at a time, I drew the tree onto the canvas, eyeballing most of the measurements from my scale sketch, with a yard stick and a tape as my guides. Surprisingly, it didn’t take that long to get the tree down on the canvas once I got used to drawing on it. In two two-hour sessions, I was done drawing the tree on the canvas. 

My husband helped me fold up the canvas and take it to the garage, where we’d moved the car to the driveway and swept. We laid the canvas out in the garage, which was slightly better than the basement. We only had to roll the top or the bottom of the canvas to make it fit there. 

So, starting with the blue sky outlining the tree, I began to paint. Using extremely watered down acrylic paint (to keep the canvas flexible), over a three day weekend I painted for about 8 hours each day. At the end of it, I had just managed to get started on the top-most branches of the tree. Throughout the next week, I painted while the boys were down for their daily nap, and managed to get about one branch done per day. The following weekend, I finished the painting with the trunk and the grass.

Painting the Family TreeWhew!

Then the hubs and I folded the canvas back up and moved it back to the basement for the next phase. 

Family Tree Leaves, Part 1I cut a leaf out of fabric for each member of the family. Each of the four generations currently living was assigned a different color leaf. During this process, my thumb (on my scissor hand) went numb, and it still hasn’t come back.

Once I finished cutting the leaves out, I set up a work area in our dining room, where I’d be able to work while the boys were running around all day. First taking the leaves to the basement to lay out on the tree so I could get the upright direction of the writing correct on them, I marked each leaf, and brought it back to my dining room set-up.

Family Tree Leaves, Part 2There, I wrote each name and birth year (and death year, if applicable) on the correct colored leaf with fabric paint. Once the fabric paint dried, I applied a few coats of stiffener to each leaf (each coat took a little more than an hour to dry). Once the leaves were stiffened to my liking, I turned them over and used a hot-glue-gun to attach the stems (pipe cleaners). Thankfully hot glue dries quickly, and that process went easily.

Once the stems were on, I paired all of the couples and added some cheap wedding favor rings to the ones that were married. I looped the stems of the singletons back on themselves so they weren’t so long, but still easily pair-able for the future.

Family Tree SignsNext, I painted a few thin ply-wood signs that would hang on the trunk of the tree, indicating to what family it belonged. 

Then, back in the basement (and with some cardboard placed under the canvas), I painted the names of my great-grandparents on the trunk of the tree, as if their names had been carved there together, with a heart between them. 

Once all of the leaves were finished, I took them back to the basement to place and attach (with safety pins) on the tree.

Finally finished, it was the day before the family reunion. My husband and I had attached some ropes to the canvas, and had a long piece ready to help us put up the tree at the reunion. We waited until just before bedtime to fold the tree up and put it in the van, since we’d have to leave early to get to the reunion in time to put it up before everyone arrived.

The next day, we left early, as planned, and got there earlier than planned, which turned out to be a very good thing.

Having not had a real definite idea of how we were going to hang the tree, we had to figure it out on the spot. We unfolded the tree, and I tried to straighten out the leaves that had been bent or moved during transport, then we set about the task of hanging the tree.

At the reunion site, there is a stage, which, luckily enough, is wide enough to hang the completely spread out tree side-to-side. But unfortunately, not quite tall enough. We went through a few different options; trying to string up the top of the canvas to the stage placed the tree almost entirely on the ground, so we went with the “laundry line” approach. 

We took the 60 foot length of rope that we had with us, and tied it up as high and as tight as we could get it, then we draped the canvas over it, and tried to anchor it a little bit with the ropes we’d attached to the top of the canvas.

It worked alright, but we hadn’t considered the wind as a factor before getting it out there that day, so we ended up trying to weight it down a bit with a few large pieces of wood laid on the bottom of the canvas as well. 

But it was up!! And it was so cool to finally see it upright!! I was proud of my accomplishment, and I was soon receiving accolades and thanks from the family that came to the reunion. I reviewed with them a few facts I had learned while making the family tree, and everyone really seemed to enjoy having it there. 

The Family TreeI look forward to keeping it updated in the coming years!

11 Responses

  1. theatrewhisper
    | Reply

    That turned out beautiful! Good job Row!

  2. Deven Rue
    | Reply

    I think you are utterly INSANE! And that considering the size of my family, yeah… I wouldn’t even want to go there. lol

    Beautiful job!

    • Rowena
      | Reply

      Thank you, Deven!! Yes, I am a little on the crazy side, huh? Ohwell, onward and upward! 😀

  3. Reta Ebersole
    | Reply

    The tree was absolutely wonderful. And I kept it a secret, except for a very few people. Everyone was totally impressed upon arrival and there was a crowd of people looking at your handiwork all day. It was a perfect fit for the reunion theme, “Down on the Farm.” The entire day was focused on memories from our birthplace. The tree was a great representation of our ‘roots’ and how the family evolved. Thanks so much for the great work. Looks like I’ll have to keep our information up-to-date; then I’ll be prepared when you ask for changes and additions next year. It really took a lot of time on your part, but well worth the effort. Grandma & Grandpa would have loved it. GREAT JOB,Row! Love, Aunt Reta

    • Rowena
      | Reply

      Thanks, Aunt Reta! I couldn’t have done it without you!! I was very happy to make the tree, and I’m really proud of it. I’m glad everyone liked it so much! And as I said, I can’t wait to keep updating it and see how it evolves from here! 🙂

  4. Anonymous
    | Reply

    Thanks so much for all your time and effort that you put into that project. The tree was fantastic. If anyone could do, it would be you with your many talents. Thanks again for a great job. Love you, Aunt Ada

    • Rowena
      | Reply

      Thank you, Aunt Ada!! I’m so glad you liked it!!

  5. Julie Holmansky
    | Reply

    That is AMAZING! Really, truly beautiful. I do genealogy too, but I can’t imagine undertaking such a huge project.

    • Rowena
      | Reply

      Thank you!! I really enjoyed the challenge of this tree. It was actually a lot of fun to figure it all out and get it put together. I’ll probably be dipping a bit more into the genealogy of my family as well, now that I’ve got a taste. 🙂

    • Rowena
      | Reply

      And also, thanks for visiting my blog! I love reading yours!

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