Help me build a fun, narrative-rich family tree
November 22, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

ThanksgivingFamilyTimeFilter: Let's talk about family tree-building! I'm looking for genealogy solutions that prioritize narrative as much (if not more) as data. Help me sift through the options?

A year ago, to stave off the existential misery of a family cruise, I got my grandmother and great-aunt loaded and chatty and we started mapping out our family tree. I discovered some remarkable stories and patterns and relationships.

At the time I was using simple mind-mapping software, which quickly became a problem. Mind-mapping (because of its adherence to top-down single-node-of-origin hierarchy) doesn't seem to be amenable to genealogy. That said, it *was* good at depicting relationships spatially, and building little narratives. Having looked through some genealogy-specific options, I'm concerned that they seem to prioritize hard data over storytelling. Going deep data-wise is not currently my objective; i'd rather have a rich map of the relationships among my grandparents and great-grandparents generation.

Thanks to AskMe threads, I've found a bunch of genealogy software options -- beyond the obvious (and problematic?), there's GeneWeb, NextGeneration Web, Geni, Brother's Keeper, PhPGedView. Can you advise on which of these options -- or any others not listed here -- might best accommodate our goals of historical narrative rather than data-gathering?

I'm open to more rough-and-tumble solutions like just using XML/HTML on a wiki, but I (and certainly any collaborators in my family) would need some easy instructions.

Any good guides for how to make family-tree building fun and collaborative would also be welcome.
posted by greggish to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How do you imagine something like this would work, or what the result would be? Even if current genealogy-focused sites and software can't handle it, if you describe the functionality there may be something else that can be bent to fit.
posted by rhizome at 10:30 AM on November 22, 2012

Response by poster: Let's take the example of Geni - I see that I can enter a story in a few different fields in an entry's record. But that takes two or three clicks to get to the story. And there doesn't seem to be a way to tell from the map view itself that this kind of annotation exists within the record. Ideally, from the map view I would be able to see (or activate without leaving the map) the traces of the relationships across the family tree, indication of the presence of narrative within it, so on.

I don't mean to be super-picky about this; mind-mapping made it relatively easy to see where the stories and the relationships were -- but it just isn't suitable for genealogy. Yet I don't want to totally lose the aspects of the map that make it engaging to people upon the first glance.
posted by greggish at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2012

Response by poster: Hrm, just found Reunion in another thread, it looks a little more full-featured than the others... but also not cheap.
posted by greggish at 2:09 PM on November 22, 2012

I'm a Roots Magic fan. Put all your data in, and it can spit out a basic narrative which you can fancy up. You can also attach entries that consist entirely of narratives to individual records if you'd like.'s Family Tree Maker is darn nice too, especially if you spring for the membership. As with RM, you can attach stories to people and/or have it spit out a narrative of a person's life. While both of these are traditional data-gatherers, you can enter whatever you'd like. They're a very handy way to attach information to people.
posted by ReginaHart at 4:12 PM on November 22, 2012

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