Modern Software Experience

2010-10-17

traditional family structure

individual

Individuals and their relationships to each other are the core of genealogy, yet traditional genealogy software typically places the traditional nuclear family at the centre of genealogy. Not all traditional genealogy software does so, but most does, in part because of the influence of GEDCOM.

The Core of Genealogy explained that this is wrong. Genealogy isn't some privilege of traditional nuclear families. Genealogy is not restricted to any type of family at all. No particular type of family is more important than others. Placing the traditional nuclear family at the core of genealogy does not make any sense. At the core of honest genealogy are individuals and their relationships to each other, regardless of what type of family they are part of.

The problem with genealogy software based on the traditional nuclear family is not just that it fails to support other families, but also that it force-fits everything and everyone into its limited model of the world.

family-centred

A lot of traditional genealogy software places the traditional nuclear family central, sometimes out of the misguided belief that dogmatic ideas about family should be promoted through genealogy software, but most often out of uncritical emulation of existing software and blind adherence to the GEDCOM model.

Many of these vendors think of their software as family-centred, yet that is exactly what it is not…

traditional nuclear versus truth

Genealogy software that puts the traditional nuclear family central is not honestly advertised as such. Many genealogy software vendors limit the usefulness of their software this way, yet none of these vendors honestly advertises suitable for traditional nuclear families only.

Vendors that put the traditional nuclear family central in their software simply aren't big proponents of truth. On the contrary, their software systemically violates the truth over and over again. The problem with genealogy software based on the traditional nuclear family is not just that it fails to support other family structures, but also that it force-fits everything and everyone into its limited model of the world. A particular telling example is the so-called Family Group report.

Family Group Report

At first blush, the so-called Family Group reports seems innocuous. It provides an overview of a family; the parents and their children. That seems a handy report to have available, and it is a handy report, but only if it is implemented right, and most traditional genealogy does not implement it right and cannot implement it right, because it lacks all sense of family. All it has is a rigid model that all facts are forced into. That rigid model is a spectacular failure…

automatically married

Some traditional genealogy software, most notably PAF, is not just in denial of non-traditional families, but also remarkably unsympathetic towards situations that do not fit that model. PAF is painfully blunt; it automatically claims that any two people that have children together are married. There are many situations were that is not just wrong, but also incredibly insensitive.

one-parent families

There are quite a few one-parent family where the partner never was part of that family, yet the so-called Family Group report always lists both parents. This is effectively a denial of the existence of one-parent families.

remarriage

It often happens that one partner dies and the other marries again. The new partner may bring a few children into the family. The new couple may get a few more children. All those people together are one family, yet most traditional software has a hard time recognising that. If you print a so-called Family Group reports for this couple, the older children from the previous marriage are probably completely absent. Even a hint that both were married before may be missing.

It is often possible to get the software to show the entire family by creating adoption links between the older children and the new couple, but the fact remains that the software defaults to showing just a couple and their children. It could default to showing all children for both partners. It could default to showing a chain of partners and all their children. However, as long as it the report is advertised as and labeled a Family Group report, it should show the entire group of individuals living together as a family.

multi-generation family

It is somewhat funny that ostensibly family-oriented software is incapable of presenting a family report for what is perhaps the most traditional family of all, a bunch of generations living together. While the adoption link may provide a mechanism to ensure that children from previous relations are shown as part of a family, there is no such mechanism to group multiple generations together. The ostensible family-oriented software is in such denial of anything but the traditional nuclear family, that it is even incapable of showing a traditional multi-generation family.

same-sex partners

Software based on the traditional nuclear family is also completely incapable of handling of handling families with two same-sex partners. Forget trying to print a Family Group report, you cannot even enter the family without lying about the gender of one of the partners.

couple-centric

When you think long enough about what genealogy software based on the traditional nuclear family does and does not, what it can do and cannot do, you cannot help but make what initially seems an paradoxical observation; such family-centred software has no sense of family at all. The software is not family-centric at all, it is couple-centric instead.

The so-called Family Group reports of traditional genealogy software are not really Family reports, they are Couple & Children reports. Those reports do not show a family, they show a couple and their children. Whether the people on that report ever formed a family together does not matter to the software at all. Family may be hard to define concept, but it is not hard to see that it means a whole lot more than a couple and their children presented in a fixed family structure.

software view

All these issues are not limited to the mislabeled Family Group report, it is inherent in the software's mistaken design, and shows up in its major views.
PAF 5.2.18 has its Family view, which has nothing to do whether the people in that view form a family at all, but is just a Couple & Children view. Similarly, RootsMagic 4 has a Family View that is really a Couple & Children view. Family Tree Maker 2011 has a People view, which is a combination of a Couple & Children view with the pedigree of one of the two presumed partners. Legacy Family Tree 7.4 has a Family view that additionally shows just the parents of the couple, but it too is essentially a Couple & Children view.

Every major traditional genealogy application pretends to have a Family view, but all they support is a rather mechanical Couple & Children view, that has nothing to do with whether the people shown in that view ever formed a family. None of these applications offers a real family view. None of these application has any concept of family, they just abuse the word family as if it is a perfect a synonym for any couple and their children.

That this abusage of the word family is so consistent throughout the  industry is not very surprising. All these vendors are still focussed on traditional genealogy. They have all been influenced by each other and the GEDCOM specification, which refers to any couple and their children as a family, regardless of whether they ever formed a family together or not.

no sense of family

It is not just the reports. It is the views too. It is the abusage of the word throughout the software and the help files. Practically all of it seems designed to misleads the user into thinking of family as a synonym for a couple and their children. This is utterly wrong. There are other families and many couples never formed a family together.

Ironically, traditional family-centred genealogy software has no sense of family at all.

Ironically, traditional family-centred genealogy software has no sense of family at all. The software does not focus on family at all, it merely has a unfortunate deleterious focus on one particular family structure to the exclusion of all others.

traditional mistake

A lot of traditional genealogy software makes the mistake of placing the traditional nuclear family at the centre of its design and then bluntly assumes that everything and everyone fits that structure, without regard for how insensitive and inappropriate that assumption might be. It has no real sense of what a family is, it merely has one particular family structure at the centre of its design, and makes everything fit that single data structure.
The designers may wish to think of that structure as the traditional nuclear family, but the way they actually use it has nothing to do with family at all. It is merely a couple-with-children structure that's consistently mispresented as family, as if the couple-with-children structure is the only possible family structure. Any actual understanding or real sense of family is completely absent.

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