Monday, May 27, 2019

Working With the "Exploring Family Trees" Visualization Program

I was reading Facebook's Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques group last night and saw a post  by Lara Diamond about the "Exploring Family Trees" visualization program developed by Brad Lyon several years ago.  Lara wrote a blog post about it yesterday - see Visualizing your Tree - With Expected Autosomal & X DNA Shared on the Lara's Jewnealogy blog.  I don't recall ever seeing this program, but Brad has blog posts from 2015 on his blog, Family Tree Visualization.

1)  The visualization program runs on the website Exploring Family Trees (  There are demonstration trees on the site to show users how it works.  Any user can upload a GEDCOM file to the site and then see ancestors of a person or descendants of a person in a "tree" with nodes representing persons and lines connecting the persons to parents (red for connections to females, blue for connections to males).

The program works using data on your hard drive, so it doesn't overload their server.  The results are dynamic (you can change the screen using your mouse), and I don't think the results can be saved.  To run the program on another day, you have to load the GEDCOM file again.

2)  I had a free hour last night, so I made three GEDCOM files using the RootsMagic family tree program for:

a)  A GEDCOM file of my entire family tree (almost 54,000 profiles, with notes and sources, but not media links), in a 48 mb file.

b)  A GEDCOM file of all of my ancestors back 40 generations, and no descendants, without notes, sources or media links.  This was 2,614 profiles in a 1.5 mb file.

c)  A GEDCOM file of all of my ancestors back 8 generations, with 8 generations of descendants for each ancestor, without notes, sources or media links.  This was about 9,600 profiles in a 4.6 mb file.

3)  When I tried to upload the big GEDCOM, I waited 30 minutes and canceled it.  

4)  I then uploaded the ancestor-only file, and that worked easily - it took only seconds to upload and show me the tree, but I had to change the Root Person to myself (which took more seconds).  There's a button on the screen to do that.  So I was able to see my entire ancestral family tree:
The image above shows years on the right and left axes.  That's me down at the bottom of the image in blue, with my mother's ancestors off to the left and my father's off to the right.  I have lines back to  Alfred the Great (849-899) in my tree, and that is the long line on the left side of the image.  I also have lines back to Charlemagne in my tree, and that's the long line above me near the center of the image.

The user can zoom in and out using the mouse scroller and can move the image up and down using the left-mouse to drag-and-drop.  If you hover your mouse over one of the persons, a popup will appear that shows information about that person.  Here is a popup for one of my ancestors:
 This tells me that the name is Thomas J. Newton (born 1800), his birthplace, his DNA contribution to the root person (it's nominally 3.13%), his X-chromosome contribution to me (0%), his relationship to me (3rd great-grandfather), and that there are 16 expected and found 3rd great-grandfathers in the tree.

When the user runs his mouse over a year on the screen, names of ancestors born near that year pop up on the screen, and a list with a green background pops up with more information.  I took this screenshot for about 1600:

There is an "Options" button on the left side of the top of the screen, and the user can select different options.  I selected the "Show Lifespan Bars" and it added vertical bars for the last three generations of my ancestors:

Unfortunately, I don't think there is a way to save these images other than as screen captures or using the Windows snipping tool (or similar).

Lara Diamond's blog post shows ways that this program can be used for DNA research.

5)  Using the GEDCOM c) I created with 8 generations of ancestors (back to 6th great-grandparents) and 8 generations of descendants from all of those ancestors, I selected my 4th great-grandfather Benjamin Seaver (1757-1816) as the Root Person and selected the Descendants chart, and saw this visualization of the descendants of Benjamin Seaver in my RootsMagic tree:
My line of descent is shown as a thicker line in the image above, and indicates that my nominal autosomal DNA is 1.56% from Benjamin, and it lists my age and life expectancy (according to actuarial tables - it says I have 11 years left! I wish!).

I have added quite a few descendants of Benjamin Seaver to my RootsMagic tree, but it's hard finding descendants of living persons without significant effort.  As you can see, I have a few born in the 1940s, but most of them are from my grandfather's descendants that I know about.  You can see from my blue dot, that there are two red lines to my daughters and red and blue lines to my grandchildren.

To do this for every set of 4th great-grandparents (about the limit for potential DNA matches), would require 32 different Root Persons and screen captures.

6)  There are more "bells and whistles" on this tree - I have only scratched the surface in this blog post.  For instance, the X-chromosome button shows your ancestors who may have contributed to your X-chromosome.

7)  At this point in time, my view is that this program is interesting and fun but not overly useful.  It did show me a chart of "All of my ancestors" on one screen, and I can see a count of the number of nth great-grandparents in each generation (a count for females and a count for males, with duplicates counted as separate ancestors).  I can also select any of my ancestors in the 8 generation GEDCOM and see descendants, which may tell me which area of my tree that I need to work on to add more descendants who are potential DNA matches.

8)  If this tree visualization interests you, by all means upload a GEDCOM file, and work with it.  I enjoyed the challenge and trying to figure out how to make it work for me.  Things like this are Genea-Fun for me.

9)  My thanks to Brad Lyon for answering my questions on Facebook, and to Lara Diamond for providing an excellent example of how this program can be used.  Please go visit their blog posts for more information.


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1 comment:

B said...

Hi Randy

Thanks for taking the time to take a look and write this up.

I definitely need to update those docs!