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 Kubrin, Joseph 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.
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