Life Size Genealogy

It all started with a phone call.  A phone call from my sibling.  When I hung the phone up at the end of our conversation my son, who was four years old then, asked who I was talking to.  When I told him with whom I had been talking to he looked confused and said, “Who?

We live far from all our family, the closest being 283 miles away in Fruit Heights, UT, and the farthest being my twin at 2,150 miles away in New Jersey (miss you Mikey!), that’s if you don’t count my oldest brother working in South America six months out of the year.  Needless to say family time is few and far between.  Which brings me back to my point that my son doesn’t know who his family is.  I have to fix this, starting with having pictures of our family within eyesight.

Merely hanging family portraits on my wall wouldn’t do, it’s stale and uninspired (which is the reason they were not already on the walls in the first place).  I needed something that would teach my son who his family is.  I had a few ideas in mind, but, being infatuated with the t.v. show Who Do You Think You Are I decided to do a life-size genealogy chart on my wall.

There are endless possibilities on how to do the display, but this is how I did it:



You will need:

  • Wood blocks                                                           DSC_7864
  • Sand paper
  • Damp cloth
  • Gel medium
  • Paint brush
  • Names, printed backward
  • Photographs
  • Water
  • Double-sided foam squares
  • 1/8″ pin-striping tape
  • Scissors
  • Pocket knife or razor box opener
  • Tape measure
  • Levels

It is obligatory that each name be accompanied by a  photograph.  A 2″x2″ picture is excellent.  I wanted the chart to protrude from the wall rather than be flush with it, in order to add texture and draw interest.  So I used wood blocks.



I started with 1″x6″ pine boards, and cut them into strips that were 2 inches wide.

board  DSC_7847







Sand them down and remember to wipe the sawdust off the block with a damp cloth so the adhesive (a gel medium introduced later in the post) will adhere more effectively.











Next, I added a name to each block.  I wanted the names to be printed directly onto the block, like it went through a printer.

finished name plate


To do this you need a gel medium and each name printed backwards on regular copy paper.

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU PRINT THE NAMES BACKWARDS, LIKE A MIRROR IMAGE, FROM A LASER PRINTER.  Ink from an inkjet cartridge won’t transfer nearly as well as toner from a laser printer.

I included the full name (maiden name if female), the year they were born, and the state they were born in (country if foreign).  You can include any info you desire.  I had 61 names to do.  That covers everyone, including in-laws, in my family born in 2012 up to our great grandparents.

Cut the names out.

name plates


Now spread some gel medium onto the wood block in a thin layer where you want the name information to be.

gel medium


Immediately place the printed name face down and rub out any bubbles.  (You will peel the paper off later, after the gel has dried.  The ink will have been absorbed by the gel and will stay on the block when you remove the paper.  This is why it needs to be printed backwards, because the name is face down.)  I used a copy of one of the pictures as a template so I would know where to center the name.  You do not want to put the pictures on first because you will be getting the block wet later on.  The water will ruin the picture.

pasting name plate


I used Liquitex gel medium in a matte finish.  It also comes in a glossy finish, which I would have preferred, but the store didn’t have any.  (Golden is another brand of gel medium.)  It might be like Mod Podge, but I have never used Mod Podge so I am not sure if you will get the same results with it.



The gel medium needs to dry at least 5 to 6 hours, or overnight.  I let mine dry for 9 hours and it was perfect.



Once the gel medium is dry spray the paper with water and soak it thoroughly.




I did five or six blocks at a time.  I found that letting them soak for five minutes, and re-spraying them three times during the five minutes, helps the paper peel off easier.  Gently dab any excess water off right before you remove the paper.  There will be some residual paper that will need to be rubbed off with your fingers.  Do not over-rub as this could cause the ink to rub off.  Also, do not scratch it off with your fingernail or it could scratch the ink.

peeling off


If the paper doesn’t soak thoroughly for long enough then it won’t come off as easily.  Just keep rubbing it until it is removed.

rubbing off


Let the blocks dry.  Make sure to leave space between them so they can breathe.  If you find that you missed some paper after it dries, simply re-wet it and rub again.



Once the wood is dry you can adhere the pictures.

I found that it was cheaper to print four 2×2 pictures on a 5×5 sheet rather than printing individual 2x2s.  I just had to cut out each picture.

cutting pictures


When the blocks are dry apply the gel medium to where you want your pictures to be.  The gel will adhere to the wood and the picture and act as a glue.  Rub out any bubbles.

pasting picture


If you want to seal the pictures to make them somewhat waterproof then you can brush on a layer of gel on top of the picture.  Once the gel finish is dry the picture will look a little hazy.  Here is a comparison – nothing on left, gel finish on right:



Wipe off any excess gel that may have squeezed out from under the picture and let dry.


Once dry, they are ready to hang on the wall.

I used double-sided foam mounting squares.

foam stickys




First I laid it out on the floor in front of the wall that it was going on so I could test the lay-out and get correct measurements.



I also tested a couple of different ideas for the connecting lines to see which one I liked best.



Next, find the location on your wall where you want the pieces to go.  A level is an invaluable tool at this point to make sure it is all level and square.  We marked a level every one inch in order to eliminate too many tools and hands needed at the same time.  We could easily measure and level at the same time!



I recommend placing the blocks on the wall before the line tape unless you need to tape between very small spots, then put the tape on first.

Otherwise, the tape will slide behind the block easily because the foam tape you used left a small gap between the wall and the block.  Don’t worry about getting the connections to match up perfectly, you can cut off any excess with a small sharp blade.


I used 1/8″ art tape in metallic black from Hobby Lobby.  For 61 names it took about one and a half rolls that were about 324 inches each.



And the finished product looks just like a genealogy chart.



Unfortunately, there is a thermostat in the middle of the wall that kind of detracts from the whole thing.  Luckily it was not in the way of where any pictures or connecting lines had to go, but it looked lonely so it got a mom and pop too!



This chart shows only direct blood lines.  However, today’s modern families are usually blended together with other’s not of blood relation, the step-family!  I am not excluded from this new dynamic, in fact, I have step-siblings on both my mother’s and father’s side.  I didn’t want to leave them out, but I didn’t have the room to include each one individually so I fell back on the ‘ol reliable family portrait.  I mounted them on foam board to give them some depth as well.




(I still need to mount captions under each one with the names of each person in the the picture)

I also added some portraits of older ancestors too.  I hope to add a lot more soon!



This is what it looks like so far.  I hope to add another generation (the great-great grandparents) of blocks too!



Now we will get to know who’s who a little bit more each time we walk by.

In the words of journalist Jane Howard, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

24 comments on “Life Size Genealogy

  1. Love this. Looks beautiful. My grandmother has a long hallway devoted to all the family portraits & I love it, but the faces don’t have names at first glance like this – really great idea! Especially for families like ours- spread all over the place. I like the natural wood, the “direct printing” & the depth. Oh & of course, the thermostat, that’s just brilliant. 😉

  2. Wow, SIS! This is wonderful. What a great job! I’ll have to come to your house to see where I really came from!

  3. Saw this on Pinterest and am floored! This is fantastic. What a great job and a family treasure. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Melissa, I also left you a message on Pintrest, not sure which one you check. I really want to do this for my mom’s birthday next month. Can you tell me who did you start with? Did you add children or just grandparents? Thanks, so excited to start!!

  5. What a great idea, and I appreciate the methodical documentation you did too. Excellent! (Came here from Pinterest.)

  6. Just saw this on Pinterest and am blown away! Looks like you put a lot of effort into it, but what a treasure! Thanks for sharing your ingenuity and effort with the web. I’m so inspired!

  7. Got all my supplies today. Got to paint the room before I can install it, so won’t have it done for a while. I took the easy way out and bough the boards from Michael’s. They are thinner than yours are, but I’m okay with that. Going to use clear labels for the names instead of the gel. Still deciding if I want to do the pictures or not. Going to be in a guest room over the bed. I picked a design for the labels that closely matches the bed spread. Hopefully it will look good when it’s done. Going to lightly stain the wood first and then put the labels on top of that. Hoping to not need any kind of sealant, since I am not sure what to put on top of the clear labels.
    Thanks for the idea.

  8. WOW! That sounds like you will do great. I’m glad you liked it enough to be inspired by it! Good luck with the endeavor and I would love to see a photo of it when it is done!

  9. I saw this on Pinterest, too, and thought it was great! My husband and I have been discussing ways to put our family tree onto the living room wall, but couldn’t pin down exactly how to do it. I love your idea of the wood blocks. I also think it is really cute how you gave the thermostat a Mama and a Papa, too.

    Have a great weekend!

  10. As another suggestion/thought/whatever, if you had put magnets on the back rather than tape (I am thinking the tiny earth magnets), you could take them down and your little one could compare them to each other or rearrange them but they could then be put back into order. I do think it is a great idea.

  11. Excellent job and so very important in our modern society. Good thing you have pictures of everone. Not everyone does! Thanks for sharing all your work.

  12. I did this a few years ago and thanks to your really clear instructions my wall looks great and gets so many compliments. I have it back to all of my husband’s and my own great grandparents, pictures included. I topped it with a “Family” decal. So glad you shared this. Thanks.

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