Surfacing Concurrent Family and Historical Events in a Family Tree Visualization

In playing around with a family tree visualization I have been working on (at, one thing I wanted to do was to display family events, as well as to incorporate accompanying historical information for context.

I was curious to see if the simultaneous viewing of family events and historical information would add an extra level of interest (a la "Hmmm, I never considered that they lived when x was happening."). We have a large bank of mental images of "moments in history", and I am thinking that this imagery can be preattentively tapped to enhance the exploration of a family tree.

I have added the first draft of this to the visualization - screenshot snippet below.

Viewing family events and historical events on a family tree

More than a thousand events were scraped from Wikipedia's articles on historical events. While these events go back to the 400's, there are disproportionately more events for the 20th century that were easy to get. I need to find more interesting historical facts pre-1900.

I wanted to use some kind of small icon next to the event to make the event types stand out. Heart for marriage is a little corny, but it works, as does a cross for death. I don't know if they had birthday cakes back in 1795, but for now that is the icon for a family birth because I couldn't think of anything better yet. I haven't come up with a good icon for a "historical event."

Initially, only family births, marriages, and deaths are included. GEDCOM files can have other event information that might be interesting to pull out as well: residences, stories, etc.

Also, the popup will only show for years for which there is a family event, not if there are just historical events. I might get off the fence and show events for years where there is not a family event, as this can provide context for the ancestors/descendants alive at that time, whether or not there is an event for a particular year.

While the effect is not quite as powerful as I had hoped, it nevertheless does surface another dimension of one's family tree. My wife already had a few "I never realized..." moments when using this functionality for her tree.

On a technical note, I am using a (tiny!) web worker to parse out all of the events - I didn't want to slow down the initial showing of the tree any more than it is now.

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