FasTree: Build your tree out in record time

Disclaimer: This is not the way to build a tree in the proper manner and it’s going to be frowned upon by most authorities on the subject of family history methods. However, I use this technique all the time and it works remarkably well if your only objective is to see where the ancestral line takes you as quickly as possible and be reasonable sure that it’s correct. It has it’s weaknesses – and we’ll cover those too – but if your back is to the wall and you need to see someone’s tree fast, this will work.

It all started when I volunteered to be a chapter lineage researcher for the Daughters of the American Revolution, the DAR. Ladies would want to join and not have a tree or even a partial tree and needed to know quickly if they had a Revolutionary War ancestor. A  shortcut was needed. Not only did this work, but it also showed us where a problem was likely to occur and when there was no connection at all to any Revolutionary War Patriot.

If you’re not sure how to begin a new tree on Ancestry, take a look here for a tutorial. Start by plugging in your name and a spouse’s name, if you want to include the spouse’s line on the tree. Forget about dates and places unless you have them at hand. Be sure to check the boxes in recent generations for “Living” or “Deceased” because Ancestry blocks everyone who is still living. If you’ve ever seen someone from the 1700s who is coming up blocked in your search, the owner probably forgot to check Deceased.

Save the tree under any name you wish and I like to make these so-called test trees, private. (Test trees, because I’m testing the lineage to see where it goes, or doesn’t go.) The reason for making it a private tree is that if it’s wrong or not well researched, other Ancestry members won’t be thrown off kilter by seeing false information.

In a short time you’ll be seeing green leaves, or hints. Start using those as soon as they appear. What you’re looking for is the thing that’s usually poison when you’re building your own tree, and that’s the matching Ancestry Member Trees. Click to see the list of member trees offered. If you only see one or two member trees in the list, this could be a problem. I’ll get back to this later.

Now, check to see how many supporting documents are attached to each tree’s listing for that individual. If you only see one and it’s another Ancestry Member Tree, then that’s a problem. Back to this later.

If you’re seeing 8 or 10 documents, click through to check it out, and if there are records then you’re OK using this person’s information when building out your test tree. Go ahead and click the check box in order to copy what they have. In this way you’ll be able to move all of the dates, names and places over to your test tree within a couple of clicks. Only use the parents and skip the rest of the children for now. Remember, we’re just following that direct line, also called the blood line, of parents and that one child.

Here’s an example of a tree that I might choose to copy from. It has sources and I’ve clicked on the individual’s name at the top of the box to see the full page for that person and reviewed the documents they’ve saved. They are fine and include church records for birth, a marriage index as well a tombstone photo showing death date. That’s good enough for our purposes.


Keep building out the tree, branch by branch, until you can’t go further back. Be sure to backtrack and pick up the female lines too. Keep looking at the tree overview to see the whole thing as you go, noting where there are holes / dead ends. When you run out of good trees to borrow from, then stop. We’ll get back to this later.

In this way you can build out a tree fast and feel fairly confident that it’s correct. Now let’s get back to some issues raised along the way.

  1. If you only see one or two member trees in the list, this could be a problem. This situation usually means that the line can be “ify” at this point. Try using regular Search to find what you need. (Find Search in the upper right.) If nothing much comes up, this might be an erroneous individual or relationship. Set it aside for later and don’t go any further on this line for now. Once the rest of the tree is built out, go back and search more.
  2. If you only see one or two Sources, Records, or Comments and when you check it’s another Ancestry Member Tree, then that’s a problem. Frankly, what you’re looking for here is to piggy-back off of someone else’s excellent work. We might use that old adage, “if you’re going to steal, steal the best.” Look for the prize entries on the prize trees and mimic that.
  3. When you run out of good trees to borrow from, then stop. Don’t force the tree. If you run into a stopping point because that generation is weak in readily available information and documentation then don’t rough your way to the next ancestor.

Next step:

When this is done and you have two choices: quit or finish up with records. If you choose to keep on working and have the tree built out to the point where you lose confidence in the next generation, start back at the beginning and look for just the foundational documents to find these following items.

1. Name with birth date and location. Might have to use a census record from 1850 forward.
2. Name with death date and location. Might use Death Index, SSI Death Record, or tombstone photo. Watch out for Find A Grave listings that are not based on what can be seen in the photos there or without sources such as obit.
3. Marriage record with names and date and location.
4. Information in any document that connects this individual to their parents or their children and thus connects the generations.

When you have all of these, consider it a job well done and you can mark this generation “completed”, at least for now. You might want to make a list of missing documents in each generation as you go.

Last, go all the way back and flesh out the rest just as you usually would. Find all known children. Locate all the sources that ring true. Use both Hints as well as the Source function at the upper right. Then bring in your own sources or images and add them to the Gallery.

Now it’s time to tackle the end of the line on each branch and try to find the next generation. Add it only when you’re certain that it belongs.

This might be a FasStart, but it returns to slow going after that!


When you use this method, you do build the tree fast but you also deprive yourself of the slow sweet enjoyment that comes from taking it person by person and uncovering all that you can about their life and times. The excitement of discovery isn’t there when you use FasStart. This, more that the chance of making a mistake, is the biggest reason not to use FasStart. Don’t cheat yourself out of one of the most exciting and meaningful experiences you’ll ever have, and that’s the journey of finding each of your ancestors and building your tree.

Take away:

  1. Start a new tree but keep it Private to avoid leading others astray.
  2. Stop working on a line when you find a generation that has weak supporting documentation on other folk’s trees. If they can’t find it then you’ll be slowed down if you take time to find it now. Get back to that later.
  3. Steal from the best and leave the rest. Copy only from quality trees with proper supporting documentation. If other bare bones and unsourced Ancestry Member Trees is all you find, leave it in the dust.
  4. Just for fun, test out this FasStart method by volunteering to make a tree for a neighbor or friend and see how long it takes.



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