Thursday, February 16, 2017

How to use Twile for Genealogical Research

Twile is a website where you can upload your tree and create timelines for your family. It is free and accepting feedback. Speak now or forever wonder why you cannot find what you need.

As soon as I learned this tool became free, I signed up and started to test it. I had been waiting for a tool that would not only list my ancestor's events (birth, residence, marriage, death, etc) in chronological order, but also, put their lives in context.

Location, location, location.

I had used the maps where you can pin down the events geographically, which gives you a nice idea of the cultural origins, migrations and clues about where else to find records. But it became clear, early enough, that the town where my great-grandmother grew up, although in the same geographical spot, was not the same in which her daughter grew up, nor where her grand daughters were born. And you should see it now, because you can, if you go to Google Maps and use the street view tool. But how about then ? And when is then exactly ?

« You are forgetting the fourth dimension, Marty ».

Time is the key resource when using Twile. You sign up, upload your tree (even transfer from FamilySearch, although it has some issues with « special » characters, like simple accents) and you chose the Timeline view, which you can customize to suit your needs. At least some of them for the moment.
So, what's in the timeline ?
The most basic information would be the recognizable fields you already have in your tree (mainly birth, marriage and death), and then you can add milestones (education, voyages, prices, recruitment, etc).
You can chose to display the timeline of either one person, you and your direct family and, the whole tree (meaning everybody you have transferred or uploaded). So, for example, you could visualize how the events of two houses occur in parallel until their children get married ; or whether the length of generations is even among branches.

Context, context, context.

But what makes it really stand out is the possibility of adding historical events, this is what really gives you context. However, it is highly biased towards USA history. You do get WWI and WWII events and Inventions, which I emphatically recommend to understand why there are no pictures of your 5x grandfather's car (no, not even on Instagram).
Screen capture of several juxtaposed branches (from Argentina, Spain and Italy)...
plus the invention of the car.
I decided not to be shy and send them some direct feedback (down right corner talking balloon that reads Talk to us) and they answered later by email (not a bot!) : they are working on it (already aware of the special character's problem) ... and they are open to suggestions.

Make History Yours

So I started to brainstorm (with me, myself and I, these gals are nuts...) some ideas and I'm still pondering whether I should share them and how. Here are some of them:
  • Go Global: of course, world, country or regional history are the first things to add (no-brainers, no umbrellas required). 
  • Contemporaneous but not mixed: I would also like to display the lines of different branches in parallel so if they their origins are different you can customize their historical events (say Italians and Irish). 
  • Stop clutter: The ability to narrow the time-frame or the branch we want to display would be useful too (maybe it is there, I haven't seen it, I know you can delete events but didn't dare to) to avoid clutter. And export or print would be nice too (the image was a screen capture).
Considering that it is a free tool, and hoping it stays as such, it should be able to profit from user generated content, which users can upload and share, evaluate and improve, like packs of events for a specific purpose (fashion, political movements, musical trends, etc). Let's also go wiki and encourage the experts to validate content.

Those were just the first raindrops of the brainstorm. 
Try Twile, send feedback and let's go dance in the rain.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mind Map my Research

Genealogists may come in all shapes and sizes but if there is one thing we have in common is our thirst for knowledge. As such, some of us have learnt on the go and keep looking for opportunities to learn new techniques and improve the quality of our research.
I came across a great opportunity this year to test my methods and get everything straight from the beginning and I couldn't refuse it so I joined a free MOOC at FutureLearn called Genealogy : Researching YourFamily Tree, which I will review once it is over.
In the meantime, I wanted to share one of the concepts that were discussed very early during week 2 : Mind mapping.
Mind mapping is a graphic way to organize your ideas hierarchically and experts like veteran genealogist (his words) Ron Arons are using it to improve their research.
Yes, it does sound like we've been doing this for years one way or the other but, sometimes, we've been restricted by space, or our system is far from reproducible, or we just simply don't like to doodle. Don't panic ! There is an app. There are many apps, some free and I tested one of them.
Mindly offers a basic app for free (with in app purchases) and I installed it a few days ago. I was able to learn how to use it in less than 10 minutes and it took less than an hour to translate my to do list looking research plan into a nice constellation of concepts.

Here is how they looks like in an early developmental stage.
I started with the main topic which was : Finding information about my great great grandfather Cipriano. Then I split the information into 3 different bubbles : what I know (Bio), what I want to know (Questions), and where to look (Sources). Each of these bubbles contains facts or clues or questions. For example inside Bio we will have Birth, Marriage, Children. Inside Questions there is Date and Place of Death. Inside Sources I will add links to only the likely sources (no point to look for him in Thailand, for instance). They can also contain images and links. When I find an answer from Questions I just move the bubble to Bio. And voila !

Did I break my brick wall ? Not yet, of course.
Am I motivated to do the research in an organized way ? Totally.

Does it look awesome ? You bet it does !