Family Trees

The long weekend offered by the Fourth of July has provided an opportunity to address a number of little projects that have been sitting, waiting. Among these is making a digital copy of the family tree that my uncle had put together.

Constructing a physical family tree is a bit of a logistical nightmare because of the way the tree fans out away from whomever your starting person is. My uncle is decidedly, and unashamedly, a man of physical media, which is why his solution involves paper and tape:

Paper and Tape

I am, of course, taking the opportunity to photograph and take scans of this document so I can have a digital version both for my reference, and for preservation. My uncle's work on his tree has been entirely non-digital, and so it provides a valuable verification source against which to compare my online research.

Much of my homework on the family tree has been done through Ancestry.Com. Anyone who has used this source is almost certainly aware of the amount of metaphorical heavy lifting it completes for you in terms of research. Being plugged into a huge library of census and other records is a huge boon, and the fact that others are also often researching parts of your family tree means that there is an uncoordinated group effort which can be very helpful.

So why the paper version? While I'm a fan of technology in general, I am well aware that the accuracy of the information gathered online is only as good as the expertise of the people putting it together. The reality is that neither I, nor many of the other people putting their trees together, am really expert in constructing a tree. For many people, myself included, it's an activity undertaken in fits and starts, when a large enough bit of free time presents itself to allow for the extended time sink that is family research.

The digital versions offer ways to manage large volumes of information relatively easily, and to provide reports on that information in attractive and interesting ways. has an app for the iPad, for example, that lays out your entire tree in multiple views, and provides background information that you've assembled for each person on the tree. This is great, and again makes it easier to put this information together. But because of the time and effort this all takes, I periodically worry about the information I've gathered in that spot because it is essentially held by that company.

While the company is functional and healthy, it's in its financial best interests to ensure that one has easy access to one's records. This isn't the part that concerns me. But what happens if and when the company is no longer functional and healthy? What happens when goes out of business?

For this reason I actually maintain two family trees, one through Ancestry and one on private geneology software. And even that is vulnerable to the perils of obsolescence.

All of which makes it clear that the paper and tape solution also has its advantages.