Genealogy research by Mark Humphrys,

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  How to read my narrative family trees

How to read my graphic family trees



FAQ on Privacy

FAQ on Adoption

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How to read my narrative family trees

For laying out all of my detailed family trees, I use a hypertext version of the Burke's Peerage narrative style. The trees are written entirely by hand. The difference with Burke's is that I use hyperlinks to break up the tree, and to follow cross-references.

For short biographies, each person is one sentence, separated with commas, ending in a full stop. For longer biographies, it breaks into normal sentences and paragraphs, and later picks up back into tree style again.

Click on the names in bold to move up and down to other pages. Every time the family below some individual grows too large, I move them to a separate page and you click on their name in bold to go through to it. On that page itself, you click on their name in bold to go back up to their parents. This convention is also used to follow property, such as houses through the families. And when people marry, you click on the name of the spouse in bold to move on to their page to see the spouse's ancestry. And you may have to click through to the spouse's family also to see the children and descendants of the marriage.

Sometimes one wants to refer to someone else in the tree not in a structural way (marriage or parentage), but rather as a more casual cross-reference (e.g. "did some work with his cousin"). In this case you will see someone's name as a link, but not in bold.

FAQ - Why do I draw the family trees in this narrative style?

Family trees are interesting because they are many-dimensional structures, and I would argue that no one has been able to draw them properly before hypertext.

When I started doing family trees in 1984, I did what many people do and just hand-drew big graphic charts on large pieces of paper. Eventually I would have to stick together a large number of pieces of paper as the charts got bigger. I was frustrated, of course, by having to constantly rewrite the data by hand as the tree grew and changed without cease. So, starting in 1990, I developed a computer system on which I could draw such charts. I constructed huge long plain-text files, designed to be printed sideways. I had converted all my trees to this format by 1992. But again, I was not happy. It took far too long to edit the trees, and they were very unwieldy when I had to move people around and make other such fundamental changes.

I realised that a narrative Burke's Peerage type format would have a fast turnaround in maintenance, allowing quick chopping and changing, but I resisted it because I still found it hard to read compared with graphical trees.

Hypertext changes everything. Turning the jumps in the narrative Burke's Peerage format into hyperlinks finally makes the format easy to read and follow. And I had to admit that the graphical charts were not always easy to read themselves (e.g. when you included all their descendants, two siblings could get separated by a vast distance, so that 20th cent. families were readable, but 19th cent. ones were not).

And not just hypertext, it had to be hypertext on the Web. I had some vague idea that a program to jump around the trees would be good, but this was in the days of stand-alone PCs, when everyone would need their own copy of the program to read it. But now, when hypertext on the Web can be read by anyone, anywhere, on any PC or TV or mobile, moving off paper is far less scary. And I had to admit that paper was isolating too - the big graphical charts were impossible to photocopy, and people waited years for me to run off another printout for them. The family tree now can be printed out on paper, but is far more easily browsed on the Web.

And the Web delivers many more things. It allows me define the boundaries of the tree, instead of having to have my own copy of everything. e.g. I can just pass the torch on to the Royal family tree site at different points in the tree. On the Web there will eventually come to exist a vast "world family tree", with maintainers for different sections, all linking to each other. Allowing in-law hyperlinks, almost any reasonable size tree should be linkable to others, with the Royal family tree at the core of them all.

Hypertext also handles all those cross-references, multiple intermarriages, in-law interconnections, sources, etc. in a way that no other system can. It allows me publish immediately, making older parts (no living people) available publicly on the Web. It allows embedded scanned-in bitmaps. And finally, once you've got used to it, you can't bear to be unable to link to TCD when you say "educ TCD". I started converting my data to Hypertext Burke's Peerage format in 1995, but the data has grown faster than I can process it. Please be patient. It may take me 10 years to get all my information online onto this website.

How to read my graphic family trees

For overall summary charts, I use more traditional tree-like diagrams. There are very few of these, and they change very rarely, so I don't mind the extra maintenance. The advantage of using hypertext here is that these summary trees can be very sparse. Instead of being cluttered with dates of birth, death, all sorts of notes and asides, etc., each person's name can simply link to the place where all the details on them can be found.

These trees are simply ordinary text and spaces surrounded by the <pre> tag. If they do not display properly, it is because either:



Of course I am not taking responsibility for the whole world. Everyone should do their own little piece, and link to the others. For the old, well-known families, I only provide a sketch to highlight and cement our particular lines of descent, and then hyperlink to the full tree of that family if it exists at some remote site. For instance, I just highlight our lines of descent in a sketch of the Royal family tree, and massively hyperlink to a remote database for the details.

In fact, my versions of all the old, well-known families are really not much more than just an extended Ancestors Chart for me and my wife.


I research all direct ancestors of me or my wife. This entire site is one extended combined Ancestors Chart for me and my wife, illustrated by the following conventions.

Proven or nearly-proven descents:

This line leads eventually down to me (proven). You can search for all such lines.

This line leads eventually down to me, if Letitia Blennerhassett of Tarbert is the mother of George Cashel. See Evidence that Letitia Blennerhassett of Tarbert is the mother of George Cashel. You can search for all such lines.

This line leads eventually down to my wife (proven). You can search for all such lines.

Possible descents:

This line leads eventually down to me (probably or possibly). You can search for all such lines.

This line leads eventually down to my wife (probably or possibly). You can search for all such lines.

I also show many branches that are not direct ancestors. The level of detail I go into varies. For our more recent families that are not documented elsewhere I go into exhaustive detail, showing all blood relations. When I reach old, well-known families that are documented elsewhere (e.g. nobility, royalty), I still try to show all direct ancestors, but not all blood relations (there would be millions of them).

Other conventions:

See ancestors chart in

See ancestors chart in

See ancestors chart in [LDS Ancestral File].

See ancestors at


admin administration of person's estate after their death (admin - when no will, probate - will)
approx approximately
bapt baptised
bur buried
c. circa (about that date)
C.C. Curate
cent century
cr created (date of creation of a hereditary title)
dau daughter
Dept Department
ed editor of, or edited by
edn edition
educ educated at
emig emigrated
esp especially
est estimated (probably by me - subject to future revision)
estab established
fl floruit - was alive at a certain date (fl 1991 = was alive in 1991)
inaug inaugurated
incl including
mar married
matric matriculated
née born as (maiden name)
NOT used to point out errors in other documents, to refute previously held facts
nr near
par parish (normally refers to civil parish)
poss. possibly
PP parish priest
pr will proved
prob. probably
pron pronounced
pub published
qr quarter (of a year)
ref reference
repub re-published
sp sponsors (at baptism)
succ succeeded (to a title or lands)
tel telephone
temp tempore - in or around that time (temp 1721 = late 1710s, early 1720s)
think I think, or it is thought
(todo) things to do (if you want to help me, you might do some of these for me!)
wit witnessed (at marriage)
yrs years

C Central
E East
LHS left-hand-side
N North
RHS right-hand-side
S South
W West

Writing old style dates


OJ Julian calendar with old style new year, or "Old Style".
NJ Julian calendar with new style new year.
G Gregorian calendar, or "New Style".

The old style year ran from March 25 to March 25, so that 8th Mar 1735 OJ is really the end of the old year, i.e. 8th Mar 1736 NJ, i.e. 19th Mar 1736 G.

From 1582 to 1752, England used OJ while the Continent used G.

I think NJ is the clearest way of expressing old style dates, that is, express the year properly, but don't change the day since that's the day that was recognised at the time. For example, 26th Feb 1703/4 becomes 26th Feb 1704.

Extrapolating dates of birth from age

If someone died: 23 Apr 1920, age 15 yrs
then I simply say: born 1905
even though of course they might have been born in late 1904, and just not yet reached their birthday yet.
In general, in the absence of exact dates at both ends, you can assume the dates are plus or minus one.

Similarly, if someone is: age 13 in 5th James I
then I simply say: born 1595
without going into complications.

The reason I don't get too uptight about dates of birth based on ages is because ages are so often wrong. Unless you have a document at the time of the birth itself, all dates based on later statements of age should be taken with a grain of salt anyway.

Likewise, I list siblings in order of age, but in the absence of actual dates of birth the exact ordering should be regarded as still uncertain.

FAQ on Privacy

FAQ - Remove me from your family tree!

I am very conscious of people's need for privacy. I publish no details for living people - no dates, no places, nothing. (The only exceptions are the rare cases where living people are already well-known public figures with published biographies - and even then I am sparing in what I publish.)

For living people, I publish only a bare skeleton tree, listing who married who, and who begat who - a simple list of names, with no dates, addresses, or even countries indicated. For an example, see how I handle my own family.

I realise this lists people's mother's maiden names, which is an ID sometimes used by banks, etc. However, the alternative would be to not list the person at all, and stop the tree completely a generation or two back. This would make the tree largely incomprehensible to family members, since they would be unable to find anyone they knew on it.

I'm open to discussion on this, but in fact I don't think the maiden name issue is a big problem, for the reason that all geographical details will have stopped a generation or two before. It is unclear what country the living people are supposed to be living in, let alone what town or city. It could be anywhere in the world. So my current policy is by default to put up a bare skeleton tree of the living.

If this is too much, I am quite happy to remove you. Simply contact me to let me know you want to be removed from the tree. If you change your mind I can restore you later.

Middle names

I do not want to publish the middle names of living people. But sometimes I have to (or else leave the person off the tree entirely).

For example, say I am given the full name of a living person: "John Richard Smith". I have no other name for them. If I write this as "John Smith" I am assuming they go by their first name. But they may go by their middle name. Since I don't know which name to drop, I leave it as "John Richard Smith".

So if I publish your middle name(s), please contact me to confirm which name you go by and I can then remove the other name(s).

FAQ on Adoption

Adoption is a delicate issue. I absolutely accept that adopted children can be just as much part of the family as any other child, and in fact I would like to include them on the family tree, and trace their marriages and descendants. The only problem is I do not want to print anything that is strictly speaking not true.

When I say "X married Y and had issue", I always mean issue by Y. When there are multiple marriages, I separate out the issue by each spouse. When there are affairs I separate the issue as well. And likewise when there are adoptions. Here are the two scenarios:

  1. Let us say X marries Y and they adopt issue W. Here are the possibilities for how I could represent this:

    (1) (2)
    X, mar Y and had adopted issue:
    1. W.
    X, mar Y.

    You simply tell me which one you prefer. The one I prefer is (1). The one I do by default is (2). I am happy to do either of these. Just tell me what you want.

  2. A more complex issue is when X marries Y and has issue Z, and they also adopt issue W. Here are the possibilities for how I could represent this:

    (1) (2) (3)
    X, mar Y and had issue:
    1. Z.
    and had adopted issue:
    1. W.
    X, mar Y and had issue:
    1. Z.
    X, mar Y and had issue.

    You simply tell me which one you prefer. The one I prefer is (1). The one I do by default is (2) or (3). I am happy to do any of these. Just tell me what you want.

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