Archive for April, 2009

Where in the World is Grandpa San Diego?

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Several years ago as a classmate of mine and I interviewed two staff members in a local family history center about family history software, we came to realize how important maps can be to genealogists and how under-utilized they are in genealogy software.   Maps are vital in genealogy because most genealogical records can be associated with a physical location on the globe.  Fortunately, since that time, maps have become a staple in genealogical software.  The latest versions of Family Tree Maker, Roots Magic, Legacy Family Tree, and many other genealogy applications have maps as part of their software. Screen shots of the mentioned applications are shown below:

Roots Magic Family Tree Maker Legacy Family Tree
Roots Magic Map Family Tree Maker Map Legacy Family Tree Map

These applications use the map as a reference to look up one place at a time and are not directly used to display a group of individuals from the genealogy database.  Software applications such as Family Atlas and MapMyFamilyTree as shown below display genealogy data solely on a map, but do not show the more traditional pedigree or family views.

Family Atlas Map My Family Tree
Family Atlas Map Map My Family Tree

Using a more novel approach, shows a family tree on top of a map. This is a very interesting idea, but it’s difficult to make sense of the family tree.  A screenshot is shown below:

Map Your Ancestors
Map Your Ancestors

These are good first starts, but I believe we can make more effective use of maps.  As an experiment, I created a map visualization as part of Family Tree Journey. To see a demo click on the following image.

Family Tree Journey Map

The software allows one to show one or more individuals on the map, all the ancestors of an individual, or one or more GEDCOM files. It also allows the user to filter what is shown on the map by dragging the year range slider. Currently the map shows both births and deaths. By dragging the slider, the user can watch how an individual’s ancestors moved across the world. This map view does need some polish but I think it illustrates the idea.  Coincidentally, I recently discovered a similar visualization for historical documents.

To make this view even more functional I want to change the year range slider to be a histogram which will also act as a year range selector.  This idea comes from software built by Palantir, a maker of analytic software for government and financial industries.  Such a year range selector would help the user get a high level view of the information shown in the map.  Palantir’s time filter is shown below:

Palantir Time Filter

This map visualization not only applies to traditional family tree programs like those mentioned above, but could be used to search for genealogical records on, World Vital Records, and  I’d love to hear other people’s opinions and ideas.


Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

In my early 20’s, on hiatus from college,  I was working in Fort Wayne, Indiana as a web developer.  Being near the Allen County Public Library, which has one of the bigger genealogy collections in the United States, I started looking into my family history.  I took many trips to the library to look through microfilms and microfiche.  I began contacting distant relatives who were also working on family history, and soon began making use of the extensive resources available from the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   I caught the genealogy bug and have yet to recover.

During graduate school, I took classes in user interface design, usability, and information visualization.  For the projects in these classes, I often chose to do something genealogy related.  Two such projects can be found on my website.  In these projects, I spent a lot of time thinking about genealogy software, interviewing users, looking at other genealogy software, and experimenting by writing various software tools.

Now almost four years since I’ve taken any classes, I still enjoy doing this as a hobby and I think I have some insights and innovations to offer the genealogy industry.  I have started this blog in order to share some of my thoughts with the genealogy software community.  In my limited free time, I have also been writing my own software to try out some of my ideas. I will likely release it as open source, but it’s not quite up to par yet, so you’ll have to wait for that. Although, if people are interested in trying it out, that would give me to the impetus to clean it up and release it sooner rather than later. Welcome to my blog.  My hope is that this blog can generate some discussion that will be useful to the community.