Charting Concepts

Illustrating genealogy makes the numbers come alive. When evaluating dates and places with the backdrop of a region’s history, compare dates within extended families. Doorways open to understanding change, composition, values, decisions, and even the future, within a momentum. The concept of ancestor loss, or when cousins marry cousins, or siblings from one family marry siblings from another, all make charting more challenging, and more important. Please enjoy these design explorations:

• “Charting a Genealogical Knot” Perhaps the biggest challenge for the genealogist is finding information. But once found, the next biggest challenge is interpreting the data to discover patterns and meaning. The numbers always contain stories, and giving context is one of the most creative and intriguing parts of the discovery process. This chart uncovers some of the complex relationships prevalent in European charts. It shows how a community can be woven by deeper relationships than residency. It takes some of the convoluted possibilities and constructs clarity.

• “The Ending is the Beginning A real world example will always challenge design approaches. The place to always begin a visual structure is with the most complex or extreme portions, such as longest, oldest, or biggest. It is common to find sibling pairs in European charts. But it is not common to find occurrences where four siblings from one family marry four siblings from another. But using a page out of the Schmitt family chart, that did  happen. They produced a large number of double descendants within two surnames. Many of these stories are hidden if only focusing on direct line ancestors.

• “Visualizing Genealogical Relationships: Double Cousins” When asking the question in the German Genealogy Facebook Group “Does anyone have the challenge of cousins marrying cousins in their charts?” It directed readers to this article, which got 1,000 hits that day! First understanding, and then charting, these relationships is the biggest challenge for those who love graphic clarity. The experts says that “ancestor loss” is actually necessary, as there are not enough people alive in the past to parent all those alive today without it! But that does not make charting this any easier! This chart reduces the challenge to its elements.

• “Closer than Close” A closer examination of double-relationships leads to definitions. What graphic forms can these relationships take? To chart “ancestor loss” means identifying the “knots” and begin charting there. Genetically “double” and “triple” cousins become more like siblings in the blending of DNA. Simplifying the complex to make it more understandable even defines the structure. The idea of ancestor loss is deceptive because there are still the same number of roles, but some can take on more than one. Finding them is part of the fun!

• “A Rinn Beginning” A lattice chart shows how complex relationships can be made clear. The tree formation demands double-entry if cousins marry cousins and can’t portray ancestor loss. In past centuries, families would intertwine for generations. The Rinn family ancestors consistently involve five surnames. This chart shows how sibling marriages express a pattern that goes back centuries when a population is geographically centered. This is the beginning of a series to trace how these overlaps funnel down to the present day.

• “Creating a Genealogical Chain” Following a series from the Schmitt sample of a “Genealogical Knot,” there are three kinds of relationships to chart: parental, matrimonial, and sibling. The direct-line tree formation can’t show how surnames really relate. Taking a scrap from the intricate social fabric of one community, this chart shows how a chain can connect more than traditional genetic sequences. The pattern must descend backwards from this depiction, but this is based on the earliest concrete data, typical of the age.

• “Visual Interfamily Intermingles” Most genealogical study fills in data into nice ordered little squares. But reality is messier than that. If the goal of studying the past is to understand it, the components of relationship, time, sequence, proximity, and choice all come into play. Most marriages were arranged, so they contain clues of economic and political priorities. Reality also blurs the divisions between generations, as it was often typical for a large span between eldest and youngest children. This chart takes the data from the “Genealogical Chain” and adds a time sequence.

• “Illustrated Glossary of Genealogical Terms” All the above design sketches became like puzzle pieces for a more comprehensive presentation. Visualizing the professional terms is a challenge for any family historian, but once achieved, makes the past come alive. By obtaining a visual structure, the complex relationships make sense. They become components of the family story, as whenever these complex marriages happen, there are stories! To the linear mind, of which many historians enjoy, a new kind of pattern and logic becomes evident. It becomes the structure upon which to gain insight and to base questions.
Please see my article Conquer Complexity: Charting Made Visual


Liane Sebastian wears an editor’s hat, designer’s coat, and artist’s shoes.