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Genealogy research by Mark Humphrys,

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Help - How to read the trees


  How to read my narrative family trees

How to read my graphic family trees


How to read my family trees





How to read my narrative family trees

For laying out my detailed family trees (as opposed to summary charts) I use a hypertext version of the Burke's Peerage narrative style. The trees are written by hand. They are not the output of a program. The big difference with Burke's Peerage is that I use many hyperlinks to break up the tree, and to follow cross-references.

  

Biographies as one sentence, or as normal paragraphs

Burke's Peerage writes biographies with commas and semi-colons, rather than as separate sentences with full stops. Here is an example:

I do something similar for short biographies. My short biographies are a few lines, separated with commas or semi-colons, ending with issue or a full stop:

Edward,
born 1750,
mar Sarah,
had issue:

  1. Thomas, born 1785,
    died 1840.

My long biographies switch to normal sentences and paragraphs:

Edward,
born 1750.
He mar in 1780 in Glasgow to Sarah.
They are listed in Glasgow in 1785.

Move to Aberdeen:
They moved 1790 to Aberdeen.
He is listed in 1795 directory in Aberdeen.
He died 1810.
Sarah died 1820.
Edward and Sarah had issue:

  1. Thomas, born 1785,
    died 1840.

  

Structural links

There are lots of links on the site - to sources and extra information, either on my site or other sites. The "structural" links show the main structure of the tree - who married who, clicking up to see parents, and clicking down to see children. Structural links use this style. So the tree looks like this:

Edward,
born 1750.
He mar in 1780 in Glasgow to Sarah.
They are listed in Glasgow in 1785.

Move to Aberdeen:
They moved 1790 to Aberdeen.
He is listed in 1795 directory in Aberdeen.
His brother Alfred worked with him for a time.
Sarah's sister Anne lived with them.
Edward died 1810.
Sarah died 1820.
Edward and Sarah had issue:

  1. Thomas, born 1785,
    died 1840.

  2. John, born 1787.

The main types of structural links are:

There are some other structural links, such as houses and property, which may be owned by multiple family members through the years.

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. These will just be normal links. See the examples of Alfred and Anne above.



Discussion - Why I use hypertext Burke's Peerage 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. See examples. 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. They should display in fixed-width font on all browsers.



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