Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Scratch Pads

In the past I've blogged about the need for a scratch pad to assist in genealogical research. It is near impossible to do family history without some type of scratch pad to write down clues, organize your thoughts, do date math, build a timeline, draw a hypothetical pedigree, some potential sources I've found, etc. It would be great if these scratch pads could be persisted in the context of my current research.

Recently a colleague pointed me to an implementation of a scratch pad that is a good example of what could be implemented in a family history application. The scratch pad is implemented off to the right side of the search interface for MSN's Live Search. You can hide or show the scratch pad, drag search results onto the scratch pad and create groups of search results on a scratch pad. The next time you come back you can easily see the items you put on the scratch pad. Clicking on one of the items loads it in the main frame of the window.

There are many features you would want to add to make this useable for genealogy. For starters, the ability to add notes to the items on the scratch pad and to associate scratch pad items with people in your pedigree.

Take a look for yourself:

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not Just a Spot on a Pedigree

I believe when ordinary people think of genealogy a mental image of a pedigree chart with some names, dates, and places comes to mind. Average people aren't heavily engaged by this. If they don't know who the people are, they aren't likely to care. What is the magic blend of genealogical data and other artifacts from a person's life that changes them from a spot on a pedigree to a real person in the mind of their descendants?

I tried an experiment recently. I wanted to tell the story of an ancestor of mine with enough fidelity that a group of people, with no relationship to her, would come away realizing that she was not just a spot on a pedigree, she was a real person. I had 5 minutes to do it. That's not a lot of time to help them care about my ancestor. At the same time, it is an eternity to try and keep a group of people focused on a 'spot in a pedigree'. I decided to create a video that would highlight a few quick artifacts of her life. My objective was to have the group make the jump from 'spot on a pedigree' to 'real person' without saying a word. I've included the video below. Those of you that are not members of the LDS Church will notice that the video has strong LDS overtones.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Better Pedigree

As I think about pedigrees, there is a short list of things I wish I could do. Many of them are influenced by applications like Google maps. For example, I wish that I could easily zoom in and out of my pedigree. All the way out would show my whole tree, all the way in would show a person or two. Then I wish I could just drag the pedigree to where I want to be rather than clicking and jumping a generation at a time.

Well, recently for a prototype we've been working on, we had to create a flash-based pedigree. We thought that rather than just do a knock-off of every pedigree out there, we'd try to implement some of these features. We determined it would take about the same time either way so we went for it. We learned some really interesting things.

1) There is a cool factor about being able to navigate a pedigree like this.
2) It is meaningful on multiple levels to be able to see your whole pedigree.
3) This pedigree seems to provide better context.
4) Interesting information can be communicated at a glance. For example, when my pedigree is all of the way zoomed out it is easy to see that I have a couple of holes in my 6th generation. This may be a logical starting point for some research.

Here is a screenshot of my pedigree all of the way zoomed out.

(Click for a larger view)

If you count you can see 54 generations (a cousin of mine hooked up to a royalty line that I left in for testing purposes...). You can't really see in the screenshot but as you mouse over people their ancestors all light up in one color and their descendants all line up in another color. If you click on a person their details pop up. We're considering putting this up on a server where people can play with it. Anyone interested?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Survey Results

Thanks to everyone that participated in the survey. There were a total of 64 responses. I've included the results below. I'd be curious about your interpretation of the results.

Here are the questions and their responses. Click on the thumbnails to see detailed responses.

1. What country and state do you live in?
Just less than half of the respondents live in Utah.

2. Do you know your grandparents' siblings?
We tend to know some of our grandparents' siblings.

3. Do you know your grandparents' cousins?
We tend not to know our grandparents' cousins.

4. Do you know your parents' cousins?
We tend to know some of our parents' cousins.

5. Do you know your cousins?
We tend to know our cousins.

6. Do you know your nieces and nephews?
We tend to know all of our nieces and nephews.

7. Do you know the children of your nieces and nephews?
We tend to know the children of our nieces and nephews. (Although most respondents don't have nieces or nephews with children)

8. Do you know the children of your cousins?
We tend to know the children of our cousins.

9. Which of the following items have been obstacles in forming relationships with your relatives?
Almost 86% of respondents indicate that geographic distance has been an obstacle in forming relationships with relatives.