The Family Chart as Art

The best business card I ever collected was given to me by an amazingly brilliant man named Antoninus Niemiec. I met him at the first ever RootsTech conference during a lightning round session in which people signed up for a 5 minute slot to share a new idea. The work Antoninus presented blew my mind.

Four out of five people think I look like someone they know

One of the things that makes Antoninus such a cool guy is his mix of talent. Upon meeting him and viewing his work, you will instantly recognize that he is very personable, he has a great sense of humor, he is extremely smart, he is creative, he is a deep thinker, and he possesses a unique artistic ability. When you mix all of these great traits with his love for family history, the result is something special.

A few years ago, Antoninus crafted a thesis for the Master of Fine Arts in Design and Technology program at Parsons The New School for Design titled “Not Your Father’s Chart: A Thesis Visualizing Genalogy as Art.” You can read the full thesis here. I highly recommend taking the time to read it, because it is fascinating.

The result of the thesis is this awesome visualization of a person’s tree. Not only is the chart a beautiful work of art, but it embeds a lot of information once you know how to read it.

Mary McDonough Tree Visualization

The chart is in fact a family tree. Think of taking a cross-cut of a tree. You will see rings representing the age of the tree. You can begin to see signs of what happened during the tree’s life. The same concepts apply to this chart. To gain a further appreciation for this visualization, read the thesis. Start on page 25 of the pdf (page 51 of the thesis). It will explain the metaphor of the tree. To gain a full appreciation of the masterpiece, read the entire thesis.

View zoom-able graphs in vector format.

RootsTech Innovator Summit Wrap-up

I’m riding into SLC on the train early this morning to eat breakfast with some fellow RootsTech-ers before the conference starts. I’ll take this time to give a quick re-cap of the RootsTech Innovator Summit which was held yesterday.

Keynote – Chris Dancy

This was perhaps the most interesting keynote presentation I have ever witnessed. Chris is such a fascinating person. A few things that I especially loved about the presentation:

  • It pushed me into a space of discomfort, thinking about death specifically. Death is an uncomfortable subject, so I tend to avoid it. I’m glad he took me there.
  • Even though Chris is so wired to technology, he is very human. He uses technology to serve him, not the other way around.
  • I’ve had a few friends who have died, and his comments on digital death were spot on. I’ve experienced seeing people post to the person’s wall well after they die, as if they are still alive and able to read their Facebook.
  • He showcased some really interesting and funny death apps. I especially liked if i die. Go watch the video.

FamilySearch Photos and Stories (Memories) API

The most interesting thing to me was that the audience was about 80% genealogy enthusiast, 10% business opportunist, and 10% developer. I thought the presenters did a great job in staying focused on the developer side of the presentation, since that was the intended purpose of the day, but also were very respectful and helpful to the genealogist. Here are my takeaways from this presentation:

  • Today, the Memories API requires lots of steps to wire everything together. An easier flow may be available later this year.
  • There are 10 layers of image screening that every photo passes through. Probably the most strict image screening done today.
  • PDFs are screened by breaking apart the images and text and screening each component separately.
  • Audio is coming soon.

API Simplicity

This was a great review of how to design a RESTful API that is nice to use. There were some great concepts shared. A lot of the concepts were based on Brian Mulloy’s API Design principles. There was good audience participation, which I think helped solidify the concepts really well.

FamilySearch App in 1 Hour

I gave up my presentation slot at the Innovator Summit for Dallan Quas to do an awesome live coding session of building a FamilySearch app in less than an hour. A lot of the presentation was an Angular showcase, but it was great to see how the familysearch-javascript-sdk could be used to quickly build an in-browser app. I was extremely impressed with Dallan’s preparation and guts to build this thing in front of a room of coders. He’s amazing.

Customer and Mobile First Design

Andrew Fox gave a great presentation on how to build services that focus on customer needs. A few of my takeaways:

  • You don’t know your customer. You are not your customer.
  • Talk to the customer. Do usability tests with 5 customers. You will start to see patterns.
  • Genealogy is like a game. A game requires some friction. People enjoy some of the difficult puzzle solving parts of genealogy. It would be a disservice to take that away.
  • He gave a great comparison of starting your family history and starting a World of Warcraft game. You start out with specific quests, learn new skills and level up. He compared a WoW player riding a dragon to a genealogist with a giant tree. Loved it.
  • We don’t need to turn genealogy into a game. Like I’ve said before, Genealogy is the Game.

Well, I’m at the end of my ride. I’m looking forward to a great day today. Come visit me at the FamilySearch booth at 1pm.

RootsTech 2014 Finally Here!

RootsTech is finally here! This year will be a bit different in that it has been in past years in that it is kicking off with the Innovator Summit. Therefore, RootsTech will be bigger and better than ever!


In preparation for RootsTech, here’s what I’ve done:

  • Spent a couple of hours refining my RootsTech schedule.
  • Rehearsed my three presentations.
  • Ironed my new FamilySearch shirts that I will be wearing throughout the conference. These are new shirts, not shirts promoting ;).
  • Fixed bugs on the familysearch ruby gem.
  • Fine tuned my apple drum set for my Kickstarter presentation.
  • Helped prepare some of the screens for Dennis Brimhall’s keynote presentation. It is going to be great!
  • Met with participants on the “Business Opportunities: Photos & Stories API” panel: Friday @ 4:00pm. This unfortunately conflicts with my Mac presentation.
  • Test drove the really cool familysearch-javascript-sdk in preparation for Dallan Quas’ exciting presentations.
  • Set my alarm for really early so that I can make it into the office before the 9am breakfast RootsDev meet-up at the Blue Lemon tomorrow morning.

This year’s conference is going to rock! Time to suit up!


My RootsTech Presentations

RootsTech Speaker

RootsTech is now less than 2 weeks away, and I’m really excited. I’ve wrapped up the details on my 3rd presentation and I’ll be rehearsing for it tomorrow.

Here’s a rundown of my presentations. I’m really excited about all three presentations. The Kickstarter presentation is new for this conference. I’ve given the Mac presentation at two previous conferences, and it has always been well received. The finding stories on Google Books is perhaps my favorite presentation, because this is what got me hooked on family history.

Discover the Future on KickStarter
Friday 1:00 pm – Ballroom C

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Technology is a popular category with many exciting projects underway. This presentation will explore 2-3 successfully funded projects and the impact that they could make on the future of genealogy.

Just a hint, I’ll be talking about programmable flying robots, 3D technologies, and possibly a drum set made out of apples.

Mac Users: Tricks to Save You Time
Friday 4:00 pm – Ballroom G

Save time every day with these tricks. Find important files faster than ever. Slice, merge, and create PDFs with ease. Make old photos look clean and new. Snatch and annotate screenshots. Find FamilySearch records with a few keystrokes.

Finding Stories on Google Books
Saturday 4:00 pm – Ballroom C

Google has made millions of books searchable through Google Books. Learn tips for performing effective searches, obtaining transcriptions, clipping pages, finding books if the full version isn’t available, and sharing discovered stories and photos on

This presentation has ghost stories, dinosaurs, and an attempted burglary that ends with a gunshot.

This is my first RootsTech where I will be presenting content to a non-programmer crowd. This will be the best RootsTech yet. I’m not sure how it will be topped. The conference gets better every year.

Why I Love Working for FamilySearch

I have my dream job working for FamilySearch. Here’s why I think it is the best:

1. Within the genealogy and family history space, there are so many difficult problems to solve technologically. This keeps things very interesting.

2. I get to work with great people within the FamilySearch organization. Most of the people who work at FamilySearch work at FamilySearch because they have a personal conviction of preserving and connecting to their families. I love that.

3. I get to work with brilliant people from all over the world who are building the future of genealogy systems.

4. I love genealogy and family history. As I continue to research, I keep finding more and more interesting things about my ancestors. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface and my goal is to become a proficient researcher.

5. The world of genealogy is changing. It is awesome being part of a workforce that is connecting diverse systems, transferring big data, and helping people break through genealogical brick walls.

6. I get an amazing view of Temple Square from my office window. I took the featured image picture with my iPhone 5 from my window.