Though every genealogy lecturer and “how to” book now espouses cluster genealogy — that is, of course, the extension of your research into the associates of your ancestors — no one seems to have come up with a good way to keep track of this. The most important tools of the genealogist, i. e. the pedigree chart and the family group record, in fact, seem to tell us the opposite: that the only “important” people are our direct ancestors, and possibly their siblings. Why hasn’t anyone come up with an easy way to chart the social relationships so vital to cluster genealogy?
There are a few tools that can help us. My personal choice in genealogy software, The Master Genealogist (now in version 7), seems best suited for this among the various software brands. Most reviewers and users shy away from TMG due to what they call “a steep learning curve”, but in my opinion, once you figure it out, this is the most powerful and flexible program. The large manual helps a lot, and I have personally called the author of the program and received step-by-step instructions for how to do a task I was having trouble with. The feature of this software that is relevant to our current discussion is the “WITNESSES” tag, which allows you to connect indirect parties to any event. These events will then display in the timeline view of both the direct parties and the witnesses. Another feature that is new to version 7 is the “ASSOCIATES” view window. This window can display on your screen alongside the timeline of events and family group windows, and lists the other parties to your ancestor’s events.
But these features, though a huge step in the right direction, still far short of allowing one to view the social dynamics of our ancestor’s world — the true goal of cluster genealogy.
Another development — believe it or not — came not from the mind of a genealogist, but a psychologist! Genograms were developed by family therapists as a way of charting family relationships. These genograms share the basic form of a descendant chart for three generations (children, parents, and grandparents), but also allow for additional connections to be made with non-relatives. Each link is coded according to the type of emotional relationship; for example, “close”, “friends”, “estranged”, “bitter”, etc. While this can help in providing context when discernible, it will be difficult for the genealogist to take full advantage of this aspect of the process. However, the allowance to attach additional associates and connections is a strength that should be pursued further. The software GenoPro is designed to closely follow the genogram process, and has an extremely graphical interface, but falls short in its power as a pure genealogy program.
Personally, I have tried several other options. MS PowerPoint has an organization chart template that works relatively well, but the limitation to the size of the “slide” will not work when attempting to chart a relatively large social group. I have had better success using MS Word, with its WordArt functions, to draw circles and lines. The text and page size can be adjusted as needed, but it is also a very time-consuming process.
I have found a potential solution in — once again — another field. The mindmapping software CAYRA (www.cayra.net) was designed for “mindmapping”-style brainstorming and note-taking, but appears to be almost perfectly suited for the task at hand. A little bit of tweaking, and I think it would be perfect. I recommend all who are interested to download the free software and use it, at least for its intended purpose for which it is quite useful.
There is to my knowledge no other solution to this problem, but there is a demand for the solution! Software programmers — if you are reading this — what are you waiting for?