Sunday, 17 June 2012

Peering into clouds

I took a break from the rigours of interpreting eighteenth century record-keeping and caught up on some of Maria Northcote's Genies DownUnder podcasts. The March episode on using images included the suggestion to use Wordle to present family names in the form of a word cloud.

I collapsed a seven-generation ancestor tree into a list of surnames weighted by the frequency with which they occur. When I fed the list to Wordle and selected a font and colour scheme to suit my personality, this was the result:

I probably should not be surprised at the power of an image to convey new information. Nevertheless, the pictorial representation did give me pause to think. How can Davies be so prominent when there have been none for several generations. Had I made an error in the name count? Never under-estimate a Welsh influence. A quick check confirmed that young Jane had no fewer than three grandparents born Davies (and the fourth is still uncertain!)

Less obvious but equally significant is the prominent "male" line actually headed by an unmarried mother. How easily that name could have been much less obvious.

Hidden entirely in the image but highlighted on my To-Do list is the fact that there are still 25 unknown in the seven-generation tree. Incentive enough to get back to the records.

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