Rabbit Holes & Icons

Caveat: I use a Mac for genealogy. I am not sure how this would work on a PC. The icons discussed are Apple icons that are also the same used in text messages on an iPhone, iPad, the desktop version to texting – iMessage.

Do you like using commercial Genealogy software? I know I do. It’s great for organizing all those families and their associations. And tagging them with the evidence you found to connect them all together. No need to download files and fill up your hard drive; just link them to people’s profiles.  

Like many people, I started off just wanting to track my direct ancestors. And, as some of the more serious researchers have learned, will learn, is currently learning…is that you can’t just focus on a single line. It’s not possible. Eventually, you need to break through a brick wall or build up evidence to make your case of who was so-and-so’s father, or what was the maiden name of my 5 x great grandmother so-and-so.

Often times, breaking through a brick wall is not done by finding that long lost record that plainly states, “Abraham Smith was the father of Mrs. Thomas (Mary) Jones.” In fact, we never find those long-lost records the further back we go in history. Instead, we will break through those brick walls when we identify negative evidence, indirect evidence, and inferences. When a genealogist finally learns how to effectively use these evidentiary techniques, they fall into rabbit holes. We pull a string to see where it leads, and the next thing we know, we are lost in an unrelated family line. But you hate to forget what you learned when you finally cut those little strings. So you save those peripheral lines until you have more people than you intended to track.

So, now that great commercial software gets pretty cluttered up. And when you synchronize it to your online tree (if you use Ancestry.com), you now have hundreds of little leafy hints just tempting you to look into them all and clear them (if you have OCD). And hints are just that…hints. Hints are only accurate when they are being attached to the correct people by other researchers in their trees. It’s an algorithm that is often flawed.

I have yet to find commercial software that meets 100% of my needs (my justification for using different software for different core purposes). Family Tree Maker’s strength is its superior ability to farm Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org record metadata, and integrating source citations seamlessly into the software (still clunky, but they’re improving – and I’m sometimes lazy). This software also has color-coding of family lines. Color-coding is excellent if you can remember what each color signifies. But the color options are finite, meaning there are only about 12 colors to chose from. When you get deep into history, you have waaaaay more than 12 branches to keep track of. Prior to color coding, I added (*) to names of my direct ancestors to quickly identifying them.

So, I’ve started to use icons. Yes, icons. They’re hidden in the software. I had stumbled upon them when they were introduced into the Family Tree Maker software a few years ago and thought…so what? Pretty little pictures. Cute. They’re only used for text messages, right? Wrong. I LOVE ICONS.

Even more effective at one-character indicators than color-coding are icons. And there are more than 12 icons…a lot more. But you really only need about six. Well, I only need six. The icons I have chosen to use are:

  1. Question mark ❓to indicate a hypothesis placement in a family;
  2. Gear ⚙️ to represent calculated relationships pursuing;
  3. Puzzle piece 🧩 to represent an indirect family connection worth researching for brick wall breaking;
  4. Line through a circle 🚫 to represent people who married into the family and whose ancestry I do not want to pursue;
  5. Stop sign 🛑 to represent people who did not have children (died young, never married, or just never had children);
  6. DNA strand 🧬(yes, there is a symbol that represent DNA strands) to represent lines that are connected through living DNA matches. I use a pair of DNA strands 🧬🧬 to represent the DNA match and a single DNA strand to represent their lineage up to the common ancestor.

How does this help me? Well, when you synchronize your offline tree to your Ancestry.com tree, those symbols appear. Now, when I see those little leafy hints, I can tell by one simple symbol if it is a hint worth reviewing. This helps to keep me on track and out of those rabbit holes. I have now found more time to focus on relevant lines!

Alas…those helpful symbols don’t show up in my online “hint” list – they do show up in all other tree and profile views. Still, pretty helpful little trick, I think.

3 thoughts on “Rabbit Holes & Icons

  1. Oooh. I had never thought of doing this in FTM (mainly because I didn’t know you could do this!) but it makes so much sense! I know on Ancestry online tree you can add tags to people, but I don’t know how this translates to a synced tree in FTM on my desktop. I suppose it’s worth me having a play around!


    1. The tags don’t transfer to FTM. I wondered the same thing. Which is to bad, because I do like the online “tags”. Wouldn’t it be grate I the tags also changed the color of the text for that person’s name? Espeicially the “unverified” and “hypothesis” tags!

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      1. Ahhh well that answers that! Yes, having a bit more flexibility in how the colours and tags can be used across both platforms would be lovely!


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