"We do not need to know a river's source to appreciate its power but it helps to draw a map, to understand the flow, the shallows and deeps. So it is with families."
I was really taken by this observation, from Jenny Uglow's biography of Thomas Bewick (Nature's Engraver, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). We, as genealogists, are doing just that, creating a map in order to understand the flow of the river and its tributaries, the sources of our families' histories.
Designing my own "family map," as I have noted before, has been the subject of much struggle. I thought I wanted a top-down descendancy chart, but when I finally managed to get the software to create one, it (obviously!) took up too much space.
I went back to my word processing program, and, using its table-creating feature, was able to enter three generations of descendants from the father of three Cain brothers (yes, three – I left out the one I had already worked extensively). I did the first two generations top-down, spread out horizontally, and simply made lists for the third level, which, so far, has 38 individuals, plus some spouses. Doing it this way allowed me to select type sizes and styles which would emphasize the persons with offspring, and give less prominence to those who died without (known) issue.
This set of charts, posted near the computer, gives me a view of the lines that are most in need of research. Handwritten notations or symbols can broadly indicate how much has been done, whether there have been brick walls, and how many children I have already discovered.