family history and genealogy

My Family Tree—a Work in Progress

Several people have read my family history in manuscript and asked for some sort of device to help them keep track of the characters and relationships. This request is understandable. The manuscript is crowded with characters. The narrative jumps between branches of the family and between generations. If you don’t already know our lineage, it can be hard to keep it all in mind.

So I spent some time on Ancestry.com, adding data to the existing family tree so that I could show a complete lineage extending back at least four generations from my own—that is, to the time of my great-grandparents. If you’ve been following this blog, you may already be acquainted with Harry and Tillie KubrinJoseph and Edith Letwin, and Isadore and Bertha Katz.

The chart above illustrates my research so far in a pedigree view, which shows only my direct ancestors. Click on it if you’d like to take a closer look.

This chart goes back five generations in some lines, showing my great-great grandparents Tema Perlow, Hyman and Ida Lipsy, and Herman and Pearl Sender.

In other respects, the chart is woefully incomplete. It does not show my nieces and nephews because they don’t figure in the story so far and I haven’t gotten around to adding them to the chart.

The pedigree view also omits the siblings of the previous generations, which is a pretty big shortcoming in a history that focuses on my extended family. It’s not that I don’t have the data. I have the major biographical information for all of my parents’ and grandparents’ siblings, including the dates of all births and deaths, most marriages, census data, and similar matters.

I haven’t shown this view of the family tree for a variety of reasons. Ancestry.com has created duplicate entries for my grandfather Sam Kubrin’s siblings, probably because of variants in names, birth dates, and the like. I have to review that data and clean up that branch of the tree. It’s also missing some of my grandmother Rae Letwin’s siblings because I haven’t found data for all of them yet. I have some more research to do in this area.

But my biggest reason for not displaying a full family tree is technical. I haven’t yet found a way to create such a tree in a manageable format.  When I display the family tree in my web browser, it extends off the screen of my laptop. If I zoom out so the whole tree is showing, the text is illegible. So I’m looking for some Macintosh software that can display my family tree, based on downloaded GEDCOM data. Any suggestions?

Once I solve this technical problem, a number of other options will become available. It’s possible to illustrate a family tree with photographs, other graphics, even multimedia. I have a large archive of photos now, so adding portraits for at least my direct ancestors won’t be difficult. A variety of other chart types will also be available. If I use Family Tree Maker, for example, my options will include pedigree, descendant, relationship, hourglass, vertical pedigree, horizontal hourglass, bow tie, 180-degree fan, family tree and extended family.

Of course, I could just draw the damn thing by hand, or hire a graphic artist to create a professional rendition for me. A hand-drawn chart would be superior in style to a software-generated one. It would show the touch of the human hand and the interaction of ink and paper fiber.

But that method might be too simple for my needs and for the times we live in now. I’ve become used to the idea of information as data, which I can store, transmit, search, and reuse with ease. If our old paper-based ways of recording knowledge are being lost, the new ways that are replacing them also represent a significant achievement.

If nothing else, my family history project has taught me to consider events in their historical context, including the present one. My generation is probably the last one that will be familiar with paper-and-pencil methods of recording and reporting events. It is also the first to be conversant with computer-mediated information. This transition is a historical shift of immense significance. I’m lucky to live through it.

© 2012 – 2015, Andy Kubrin. All rights reserved.

4 Comments

  1. Mariann Regan

    I don't have an answer. But I have struggled with this same problem. Family trees always seem bigger than the standard page (like a laptop screen( or even a legal page. Especially if you're going back four generations from your own! Unless you take the graphic artist route — which is what they resorted to for Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots — some compromise is necessary. At least, that's where I am.

    Here's what I've done. I've used Family Tree Maker and Ancestry.com. You can click "publish" on the Ancestry.com website and make a Descendant Chart that starts with any ancestor. ( Limit: 3 generations.) I was able to fit my grandparents, their children, and all us 17 first cousins on a 24 x 36 inch chart, with space for photos for everyone. It did cost money, but it really-really worked at our First Cousins Reunion this summer. Many people (80 total came) were crowded around the chart, trying to get it straight. I also think this chart might have been readable on a 8 x 11 1/2 page, because it was readable on my screen.

    Then for each first cousin's family, I printed out a Register Report. Also from Ancestry — not publish, but print. (Limit: 4 generations.) This lists data for each person, generation by generation. The RR came to 1 to 3 pages per cousin. I bound all the Register Reports in a 30-page booklet and handed one to each Reunion attendee. Between the Descendant Chart and the Register Report, people told me they had a very clear view of our family. (I was overjoyed.)

    I share your frustration with the partial nature of the Ancestry pedigree chart. It's a problem inherent in the material, perhaps. Not everyone will fit. I'll bet you will find an ingenious solution. No one has a perfect answer, I believe — which is why for TV they invented the huge, huge charts. Good luck!

    • andykubrin

      Mariann,
      Wow, you did a lot of work for your reunion. I hope your cousins were pleased.
      I may use a graphic artist ultimately, because I think a drawn chart can be pretty handsome compared to a computer-generated one. For right now, though, I’ll be happy with a digital chart, as long as it shows the family tree.
      Thanks for dropping by.
      Andy

  2. Scott Kubrin

    Hey Andy

    Was just talking to my dad about his grandparents who were Harry and Tillie. His dad was Alvin. He was telling me great stories about times he spent with them

    This led to me stumbling upon your site

    It was great reading up on your stories of the family as I have always wanted to know even just a brief history

    Hope this message finds you well

    Regards

    Scott Kubrin

    • Andy Kubrin

      Hi Scott,
      How nice to hear from you! You’re the first Kubrin who has stumbled across my blog through a search.
      If I have the genealogy right, Alvin was the third born of Harry and Tillie, after my grandfather Sam and his sister Nellie. Alvin was also known as Bummie. Does that sound right to you?
      It would be interesting to hear your father’s stories about Harry and Tillie and other family members. Please get in touch again. I’d be grateful if you’d share them.
      All the best,
      Andy

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