Writer Hack: How to Make a Family Tree For Your Epic Novel FOR FREE!

The MyHeritage Logo, courtesy of their media kit
The MyHeritage Logo, courtesy of their media kit

Are you currently writing a large epic with tens or even hundreds of characters, each in their own families and clans? Are you having trouble keeping all twelve of your main character’s half-siblings straight? Do you wish you had an easy, convenient way of creating a family tree or character map that tied all your characters together in one large PDF for viewing?

Well, dear writer, fret no more! Because today, I’m going to introduce you to one of my favorite secret weapons for writing.

Ready?

MyHeritage.com

MyHeritage.com is what I like to call the “free” version of Ancestry.com.  It is a website primarily aimed at those who wish to create family trees and get in touch with actual extended family through the convenience of their online platform.

I put quotes around “free” earlier, because there are services you can pay for on the site such as backing up your tree’s data.  But for me, I’ve found that the free version is more than enough to fit my writerly needs.

Because of instead of making an actual family tree, I’m making one for my characters as we speak.

The Pros

Price and Interface

Interface of MyHeritage.com
Default interface of MyHeritage.com.  Courtesy of their media kit.

Just by signing up and making an account, you can start building a tree — or even multiple ones, if you want.  It will ask to list your information at the start, as you become the first member of the tree by default, but instead, I suggest just using your main character’s information like their birthday and anything else you know about them.  What’s also neat about MyHeritage.com is that it allows you to upload photos of everyone in your tree so that they aren’t just names.  I recommend Googling actors, actresses, and fashion models that fit the descriptions you have for your characters.

So, to put that in perspective, I am writing a fantasy novel right now called Karetu (you can read more about it and listen to its demo soundtrack here).  In the family tree I’ve created for the novel, Karetu (no surprise there), the main character, is its center.  The picture I use as a reference for her on the family tree is actress Denise Vasi.

And don’t worry.  If you happen to use a picture of Justin Timberlake or Mila Kunis for your protagonist because you think Jthey’re attractive, no one has to know.  You can control your tree’s privacy settings as well 😉 .

Oh! But I forget — You can generate a PDF of the entire tree you created for free as well for printing or for screen viewing.

Neato, right?

The Cons

A Bit Tedious and Conservative

The only downside I’ve found with MyHeritage is that it can get a bit tedious when you’re trying to rearrange family members with each other.  It sometimes requires you to remove a connection between two existing people before you can reconnect them in a different way instead of just overwriting the connection outright.

But what really gets me, sometimes, is how it handles marriage.

There are two characters in the novel so far, Nailo Eshi and Okumune Eizou, that are in a homosexual relationship.  Naturally, I want them to show up married on the family tree.

But before I can connect the two, the warning notification from MyHeritage pops up:

Oh, I'm very sure. Make no mistake about that.
Oh, trust me.  I’m very, very sure.  Picture censored for privacy and copyright concerns, ’cause I don’t know who he is.  Screenshot taken by me.

And that yellow notification about being doubly-sure I want them to be married will show up every time I try to hook up two people of the same gender.  This also makes polyamorous relationships a bit difficult, if I were to include any, but I do admit that MyHeritage is more focused on genealogy and ancestry.  I’m likely making it do too much at this point.

The Verdict

If you’re a writer trying to make sense of all your characters in relation to each other by blood or social ties, I recommend giving MyHeritage a try.  Let me know in the comments if you do give it a shot, or if you have a different method/use different software to keep track of your characters.

We’re all in this together, right?

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