Beyond the Family Tree

The reason we started Intriguing History and Intriguing Family History, was because after years of dedicated tree building, we found ourselves in a sort of ‘so what’ position.

Not a shrug of the shoulders ‘so what’, more a hands out, ‘so what now?’ attitude.

Family trees are of course essential to good sound methodology for family historians and we all know about the importance of good historical context and how it can enrich our research but still we were frustrated.

A number of issues arose:

    • The tree only ever really reveals linear relationships
    • The data once placed onto the GED is not malleable, it’s set in concrete and does not reflect all the possible, if’s,  but’s and maybe’s
    • This lack of malleability can restrict how we see the data, the idea that when you see the data on the tree it must be true, can sort of cut off the stream of creative thought
    • None of us can be certain of all the facts on the tree however good we think we are. We sometimes ponder ‘who’s the daddy……..’
    • The situation that, even when we there is no direct family tree relationship that we can see across same surname trees, we have that gut feeling maybe because of location, occupation, shared forenames etc that there is likely to be a connection. How do you resolve that?

The problems with looking at our family history in a linear way, just grew and grew:

    • Where did Great Aunt Agatha’s story, loaded with locational, occupational data, a lot of innuendo but not a lot else, fit?
    • How did we record this data, curating it within known sourced material?
    • How then, did we make that available to the wider world, where someone might have the key to unlocking the puzzle?
    • Those military photos of an unknown, unplaced ancestor, how could they be incorporated?

What we wanted was to be able to draw data into a single frame and the solution we came up with was to map or geolocate the data.

    • We reasoned that most of the data that we were looking at could be given a specific or generalised mapping coordinate, thus allowing us to view all data in a simple frame.
    • We then reasoned, that as we fed more and more data into the map that clusters would form, as the data load got bigger, the clusters would become more apparent and patterns would emerge.
    • Data fell into cluster groups in a way that could never have been visualised in a linear tree.

At last we were making connections!

    • All scientists will tell you that patterns in data are critical to understanding what is going on in a system.
    • By using selected categories we could further enhance this clustering across a number of parameters, for example, other surname groups and their relationship to our tree, forename clusters (we think a potentially important theme for looking across trees) and occupations, to name but a few.

Take a look at a couple of Intriguing Connections sites where we have mapped data and encouraged others to do the same to see what connections and insights can be made. New patterns in the data have emerged and seemingly unconnected family groups have found that they do after all share some common  background.

Go to  and

If you love your hobby and want to explore the data in a different way then this is an approach that will give you new insights, generate new interest and you be able to share ideas, data and analysis with others.

For less than £10 a month and a fully supported system, try a fresh approach to building family history. Visit Intriguing Connections and contact us, we’d love to help.

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