Friday, September 8, 2023

Seeing Things Differently


A well-trained eye has become accustomed to gleaning minute details from maps or other diagrams. In our case as family historians, pedigree charts become our familiar domain. We know how to read them and what to look for. And yet, I find it refreshing to be able to rearrange the order of a chart, because it provides a new way to view research progress. When the diagram is rearranged, it allows us to see things differently. And sometimes, that leads to helpful discoveries.

Yesterday, when I opened up my tree to make additions to my father-in-law's new Tully line, up popped an announcement about a different type of family tree: a fan chart.

Ancestry is adding an additional option of seeing your pedigree chart in what they call "fan view." Of course, this is a beta offering, so not everyone will see this immediately in their account. In fact, I'm apparently the new kid on the beta block, as others have already written about this beta offering. It was only a few days ago when Ancestry's fan view test included even more options than what I can access now—options which I hope Ancestry will eventually include in their final version, such as extending the view from five generations to seven, and setting the chart so that it can be easily printable at a size which is legible. After all, I'd love to share my work—without having to bring along a magnifying glass when I show it off.

Granted, there are other genealogy programs, both online and in desktop-resident options, which already offer the option of viewing our work in fan chart arrangement. For some of those, I am already a subscriber. However, since Ancestry is where I do the bulk of my family history research, I am glad for this latest development.

New toys demand time for play, and I did experiment with printing the charts—both my parents' tree and that of my in-laws. I was surprised to see, in working with my own parents' lines, that there were no blanks among the generations. I've had so much trouble researching my paternal side, especially the Polish ancestry, that I was sure I would find gaps. That was an encouraging discovery—even though I could have seen the same thing, looking at the traditional pedigree chart (I prefer using the horizontal version). I guess looking at things differently can also be encouraging.

What I found most useful in this new fan chart offering is the option of going to a specific individual—say, an ancestor outside the five-generation parameter currently offered in this beta version—then, on the person's profile page, selecting "view in tree." From that vantage point of the specific individual, I can then select "fan view" and see that individual at the central position in their own fan display.

Here, for example, is the fan view visually demonstrating what I currently have added to the line of my second great-grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles. You can see, even in this chart, Ancestry has automatically added suggestions for the ancestors I haven't yet confirmed, including clickable green tabs with hints. The other uncolored slots show me at a glance where I need to focus my research in the upcoming year. 

If Ancestry decides to include this fan view option in their ongoing offerings, I hope the several iterations of the idea that were originally developed will be included in the end product. Color coding to show which ancestral lines need the most work—greater need for work represented by more intense shade of the color code for larger number of hints—could help pinpoint where to direct research efforts. So would the ability to expand the chart to include more generations.

At a glance, the fan view option gives us another way to not only see what work is still needed, but aesthetically reward us for what we've already accomplished. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to print and share what I've been working on. And who knows? Maybe the family and friends who see it might be encouraged to try their own hand at finding their ancestors, too. 


  1. I checked out the fan view in Ancestry just this morning. I like it.

  2. If this option disappears, Family Search has long had a fan chart. You'd have to take a minute to make sure no one has entered something erroneous on the tree, but the option is there. What I want to return is Family Search's prototypetext search tool that they offered briefly. I provided some feedback on its disappearance and was sent an email stating that they are working on it and hoping to make it available again early next year. Fingers crossed.


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