Friday, September 28, 2012

Not the Assignment I Was Hoping For

I’ve heard many people tell stories about how they first became involved in genealogical research. Often, the story begins, “When I was in school, the teacher assigned a project to interview my grandparents and draw a family tree.”

That’s the case with my cousin’s daughter, who came home from high school one day with that announcement. By the time she turned in her report, our supposed Irish roots were suddenly Polish. She had uncovered the family secret. (And I’m still trying to sort out the mess.)

I’ve spent an entire adulthood awaiting the parental chance to have my own daughter come home with an announcement like that. Admittedly, I’m a homeschooling mom, so I have no one to blame but myself for such a long wait. Now that my daughter is in college, my chances may actually have increased. Considering that she has declared her major to be archaeology, my daughter seems to have registered for every anthropology course ever known to mankind. This semester, she enrolled in a Cultural Anthropology course, and my long wait is now over: she has received the coveted assignment.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. As she explained the other night as prelude to sitting down with me in front of the computer to examine my genealogy database, what she needed for class was a “kinship chart.”

It took me a long while to get my head around that concept.

“You don’t want names?”


“What about dates? Birth? Death?”


“But surely you need information about marriages? How else can you produce kinship?!”

What evolved from that conversation was a chart which—she assured me—did include all the relationships contained in my genealogical records for the past three generations.

That’s not what it looked like to me. It looked for all the world to be a series of triangles, circles and random lines.

“Like those charts about Queen Victoria and the spread of hemophilia throughout European royalty,” my daughter explained. “Remember those?”

Well, actually, no. I guess I wasn’t such a good student in my homeschooling-high-school years. After all, I was the one who was supposed to be the teacher.

She promised to produce a link to an online source where I could generate such a chart. But as luck would have it, she then managed to join a friend for an outing downtown for the last night of the local farmer’s market and street faire, leaving me link-less.

Secretly, I snuck a look at the Internet, trying in vain to recapture my advanced educated persona and find the blasted chart.

Not successful in my search, I did uncover some nice resources for relationship charts—not those beyond-bare-bones genealogy-counterfeit things anthropologists like to use, but the kind of thing real people like genealogists could put to use.

In the end, though I still can’t dismiss the squishy sense that somehow I’ve been cheated, I did run across the material my daughter tried to explain to me. Plus, she did get me that link.

And she even let me scan a copy of her class assignment. Well, at least part of it. It’s too long to fit across just one page. Some of us had pretty big families.

“It’s to demonstrate patterns in relationships, mom,” she tried to explain.

Somehow, I still think something is missing…

Top chart, "Cousin Kinship Chart," courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Wow. And here you were with perhaps a complete a record as one might reasonably have...

    I'm not sure I "see anything" in the result (except one of those old time stock market ticker tapes). I wonder how the professor would even begin to "grade" this assignment...?

    May I ask how the output was produced? In Microsoft Word? Special font?

    1. Iggy, thanks for asking about how the output was produced. I usually include the resources for anything I refer to by hyperlinking directly to the website. However, when I checked it after your comment, it looks like the wrong link got double-posted.

      So, for anyone interested in the resource for that anthropology chart, my daughter found it at

      On that website, you can download the actual program by clicking the link labeled "Kinship Editor Software." It seems to be a rudimentary program. My daughter said something about java binary code. It doesn't facilitate doing some of the things she wishes she could do for charting. But, hey, it's free and accessible, and the assignment was due right away.

      By the way, I posted the readout purposefully in that smaller version--mainly because that's what I think, too: it looks like a ticker tape readout. Her actual product was four pages wide, which obviously doesn't fit well in this column here. I really need to get over this attitude...

  2. Perhaps you have a niece or nephew that will someday need your help..or a great niece or nephew...someone must need the info! Those charts all looked confusing to me..I know I did one on Fruit Flies once and their offspring:)

  3. "the kind of thing real people like genealogists could put to use."

    I object. Majorly object.


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