Transplanting the family tree

What did you do on your spring vacation? Me, I communed with ancestors — and not just the vividly alive ones. My mother had collected a good deal of basic facts and figures about her family and my father’s, and had fed this data into genealogical software installed on her computer. All that rich data was trapped on a local system; to distribute some of it to interested descendants, she would print out, collate, update, supplement…. Spring break: time to transplant the family tree online.

Thanks to the Mormons, the world of digitized genealogy is stabilized into basic metadata; most any family tree software ports its data into GEDCOM files. That allowed us to easily move all those dates and obscure birth locales to a web-based presentation, using a GEDCOM to HTML converter.

Actually, not just a presentation — really a dynamic social platform. The open-source package that I chose, PhpGedView, allows registered members to upload all kinds of supplementary information — photos, notes, what have you (and what *do* you have from those ghostly predecessors?). It pours out data in any number of ways — fan charts, calendars, relationship maps, you name it. It offers a customizable portal, with any number of ways to communicate with fellow registrants. And it protects the privacy of the living: unregistered visitors won’t know how old I am or where I was born or even my name, though they can browse to their hearts’ content among the dead.

PhPGedView pedigree chart

A pedigree chart stretches back back back…

PhPGedView notes view

Notes from my uncle supplement data and an uploaded picture of his grandfather, a line-o-type operator in Salmon Idaho.

I particularly like the “on this day in your history” feature, because everyday is an anniversary of some event — a birthday, a deathday, a wedding….

PhPGedView calendar view

Mark your calendars: plenty to commemorate in May — though Saturdays are oddly event-free.

Yesterday, Grace Parker (my great-great grandmother) turned 143. Meanwhile Gunilla ‘Golda’ Endler, another great-great grandmother (oh I have lots of ’em) will be 152 later this month. Only a few photos currently festoon our family tree; my mother has diligently digitized many old portraits, but at huge resolution so she could print out copies for family members, so this work has to be web-optimized. It happens, though, that the tree already contains pictures of our April birthday girls: both Grace (my mother’s side, born in Kansas, died in Oregon) and Golda (my father’s side, born in Belarus, died in Sweden).

Grace and Golda, together

Happy birthdays, ladies — you’re no spring chickens, and I’m sure you never gave each other’s world much thought, but here you are, linked through one of those improbable combinations of American circumstances, and settled side-by-side on the web. Settled, at least, for now; despite those lock-in gazes, we know you’re both migrators.

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