Family Tree

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Representing a family genealogy is often done using a conventional tree structure. It shows the relationship among generations in a particular family. The family tree is so intuitive as an example of information design because it functions as a metaphor. The older generations in the family are plotted at the top of the tree, at its highest points, while the younger, new generations are located along the lower tree branches, closer to the ground. From the arrangement of family members on the tree structure, it is easy to determine their actual relationships. Knowing how many grandchildren someone has, for example, can be determined fairly quickly. A family genealogy that's written down in linear form on paper is much more difficult to extract meaning from. (Those chapters in the Bible with the long genealogies aren't much fun to read.)

The lines connecting family member names on the tree serve as visual clues.The family tree I've linked to is easy to navigate and can be deciphered quickly. So why does the structure of tree make for a good metaphor in illustrating family history? I think it's due to the similarities between nature and people. Trees can grow for hundreds of years, just as families can. And the roots and branches of a tree often take on age connotations. I also think it's sort of a ritual for many families to create family trees. The reason they work so well is because people are familiar with them and know how to interpret them. Without the tree structure, people would still be able to "read" the family relationships, but I think the tree serves as a visual reminder of what type of information is being portrayed