Tech Tools: Grandma’s Pie Chart

FamilySearch continues to offer and support a wide range of free and affordable genealogy apps. A simple but fun app is Grandma’s Pie, developed in BYU’s Family History Technology Lab and released in 2015. It is free, but does require FamilySearch account. You may upload a GEDCOM file or use your FamilySearch tree.

Grandma’s Pie is a novel name for the app that allows you to view your FamilySearch tree using various pie chart visuals. Also known as Pedigree Pie, the app requires you to authorize access to your FamilySearch account.

It begins by default with you and the geographic birth places of your grandparents, following a direct line up. As clear in my own tree, which is not as complete as it should be in FamilySearch, the majority of my recorded ancestors to 6x grandparents were born in the United States (83%).

Apps - Grandmas Pedigree Pie - FamilySearch Apps - Grandparents Generational View

You may change the starting person by using their FamilySearch Person ID number.

Switching to my favorite brickwall, Lula Bell Pinder, Grandma’s Pie chart shows her parentage as mostly Canada West. If I turn off “Extrapolate Unknowns,” as there are many, I see the gaps in my research on her part of the tree, mostly due to the brickwalls I’ve encountered.

Apps - Grandmas Pedigree Pie - FamilySearch Apps - Lula Bell Pinder - Grandparents Generational View

Click on one of the colored pie pieces to see who they represent. In this example, Lula Bell’s mother, Elizabeth Brunner is highlighted, helping you to see where people are on the chart and see who is missing.

Apps - Grandmas Pedigree Pie - FamilySearch Apps - Lula Bell Pinder mother Elizabeth Brunner - Grandparents Generational View

You then have the option to view that person in another pie chart or to visit their profile page on FamilySearch.

In an article on Grandma’s Pie by Jill R. Decker, the app shows countries up to seven generations. By turning the Extrapolating Unknowns, as I did above, it is easy to see where ancestors are and aren’t identified, and work needs to continue.

The app doesn’t do much else, and many online services offer such pie chart views with DNA results and other charting services, but FamilySearch doesn’t offer these. This app adds the fun visual functionality.

Whether to help you find the missing pieces of your genealogy research on FamilySearch or in a GEDCOM file exported from your genealogy program, or to provide a visual for friends and family or your website or social media, Grandma’s Pie is a fun additional to your tech toolbox.

Check out the other interesting and handy web apps and tools on FamilySearch.

Google Alerts for Family History Research

Google Alerts - Front Page Set up for Lorelle - Lorelle in the Past Lane.Google Alerts have been around since 2003 and serve as an excellent free method to uncover topics of interest on the web. Google Alerts are an ideal way of bringing the information on your family history research to you rather than you chasing after it.

Google Alerts are not searches as much as they are notices that there is a news item, blog post, or scientific research on your topic of interest. I’ve been using them since the beginning to track surnames in my family tree and topics related to family history, genealogy, genealogy technology, and other areas of interest.

Google Alerts is designed to email you automatically with a link list when news is found, daily, or in a weekly digest. It also includes the ability to create a feed of the alert results which you may add to your feed reader for easy updates.

To use Google Alerts, consider what you wish to track. Alerts for the family name “Anderson” will generate every news article about a criminal or sports player with the last name Anderson, every mention of towns and streets with Anderson in the name such as Andersonville – very overwhelming.

Google Alerts uses basic Boolean for search terms. “Anderson Wisconsin” will restrict the alerts to news items with both Anderson and Wisconsin in them, but might miss those with abbreviations for Wisconsin such as Wisc. and WI. The more specific you are, the more restrictive the search, and the more you may find or miss, and the less specific you are, the more likely you are to be inundated. Be patient and willing to experiment to find the right combination that works for your needs.

Using quote marks and plus and minus signs, you improve the results.

  • Andreas Anderson Wisconsin = mentions of all three words in the text.
  • “Andreas Anderson” +Wisconsin = mentions of Andreas Anderson near the word Wisconsin.
  • “Andreas Anderson” -Wisconsin = mentions of Andreas Anderson with no mention of Wisconsin.
  • “Andreas Anderson” -Wisconsin -Michigan -Florida = mentions of Andreas Anderson with no mention of Wisconsin, Michigan, or Florida.
  • “Andreas Anderson” +Wisconsin -Michigan -Florida = mentions of Andreas Anderson and Wisconsin with no mention of Michigan or Florida.
  • +Anderson +Wisconsin +baseball = mentions of Anderson, Wisconsin, and baseball on the CNN news site.
  • intitle:genealogy = mentions of “genealogy” only in the title of posts, irregardless of the use of the world within the content.
  • “family history” intitle:genealogy = mentions of “genealogy” only in the title of posts with “family history” in the content.
  • #genealogytips = mentions of the hashtag.
  • genealogy OR “family history” = mentions of either term.
  • genealogy OR “family history” +society -Wisconsin = mentions of either term with the word “society” but not “Wisconsin.”
  • Anderson type:image = mentions of “Anderson” associated with an image.

I work hard to find interesting archives, especially digital archives, for this site and my students and workshop participants, breaking the doors open on what’s available to help you learn more about your ancestors. Unfortunately, my Google Alert for “archives” is indeed overwhelming. Over the years I’ve honed it down. The current version is:

archives -“from the archives” -sport -football -baseball -teams -taxpayer -marvel -endometrial – endocrine -ovarian -“breast cancer” -“the bachelorette” -fortnite -overwatch -“grand theft auto” -“varicose veins” -football -soccer -hockey -cholesterol -“free concert” -“cancer claim”

Why? Because there are too many “from the archives” posts that have nothing to do with a physical or historical archive, too many mentions of sports archives, and other unrelated odds and ends that appear in my Google Alerts feed for “archives.” By eliminating as many of the distraction posts, I see more of what I want to see and report to my readers.

For more information on Google’s use of Boolean search operators, see Google’s Boolean Search Operators Guide.

How to Setup a Google Alert

Once you have an idea of how specific your Google Alert search term is, it’s time to set up your Google Alerts. It’s free, and you may have as many a you need.

  1. Sign into your Google Account and go to Google Alerts.
  2. Type in the search terms in the form for “Create an alert about…”
    Google Alerts - Search Results to Create an Alert for Genealogy Society - Lorelle in the Past Lane.
  3. The resulting page displays a sample of the results. If there are too few results, or the results don’t match your expectations, change the wording in your alert search term. If there are too many results, consider removing some using the minus in front of keywords.
  4. To create a Google Alert, click the Show Options link.Google Alerts - Alert customization options - Lorelle in the Past Lane.
    • Set how often you wish to recieve an email or have the feed updated.
    • If you wish to restrict your searches to a specific type of media such as the news, blogs only, video, images, books, etc., do so in the Sources section.
    • If you are seeking language specific content, switch to that language.
    • If you would like to restrict the information found to a specific geographical region, you can select that option to reduce the incoming results.
    • The How many option is confusing. They options are “Only the best results” or “All results.” The latter gives you everything found. If you are working with a fairly specific and restrictive set of terms, this might be your best option. Otherwise, consider selecting the best results as Google Alerts may analyze the relevance of the content to match your search terms, thus improving the results.
    • Deliver to sets the Google alert process for delivery of the information via email or feed. If you would like both, you will need to create two alerts with the same terms, but different options for delivery.
  5. When ready, click Create Alert.
    • If the alert will be delivered to your email, it may arrive shortly or within 24 hours, as news is available. Check your spam filters to ensure you whitelist these emails, or set up a filter to send them to a specific folder.
    • If the alert will be delivered via RSS feed, copy the link from the feed logo (curved fan) and add it to your feed reader.
      Google Alerts - My Alerts - Feed links - Edit - Trash buttons - Lorelle in the Past Lane
  6. If you wish to customize your Google Alert results, click the pencil to edit.

Not all of the results will be of interest to you. Review the titles and the excerpts to see if they apply to your research, and if they do, click the link to open the web page. If they don’t apply to you, simply delete the email.

Below is a comparison of the Google Alert created for “genealogy society.” On the left is what it looks like in Google Alerts as a preview of your search request. On the right is what the results look like in my Inoreader feed reader on the desktop.

For more information and tips on using Google Alerts:

The Technology of the Pencil

Pencils from Around the World - Collection and Photograph by Lorelle VanFossen - Lorelle in the Past Lane.

One of my students asked me to define technology. After a few moments of thought, I held up a pencil.

“This is technology.”

She laughed.

I teach web technologies for web publishing, design, and development. I specialize in WordPress, blogging, and social media. I’m a techno junkie of the highest order. My students wish to follow my path, but I’m already several decades ahead of them. To her, a pencil was “old school,” not like computers and driver-less cars run by computers.

“Before the pencil, humans carved words in stone, wood, plants. They used ink on quills of feather, metal, and wood. It was hard work and messy. The pencil, and the pen, revolutionized the world. It gave people a way to communicate and preserve their thoughts and ideas more efficiently. It democratized knowledge.” She stared at me. She should have known the answer to the question would come with a history lesson. “The pen and pencil allowed anyone, no matter their class, income level, or education level, to write. It brought literacy to the world.”

“But it’s not technology.”

“What’s your definition of technology then?”

“Machines that improve our life.”

“That’s right, but be more specific. The definition of technology is anything that improves our way of life. It could be the pen and pencil, the wheel, the dishwasher, the computer, or the space flight.”

As I work on this site, I keep hearing her voice in my head. “But it’s not technology.”

The goal of this site is to talk about technology for the modern genealogist. Sometimes I feel like I should defend myself when I offer tips and techniques for genealogical research that involves pen, pencil, and paper, with no computerized gadgets or bells and whistles to impress. Yet these are technology. So are the gadgets. They all improve not only our way of life but our family history research.

Recently, Archeology Magazine reported on research by Washington State University on the inequality of human societies. They studied the economy between 9000 BC and AD 1500 to measure the disparity of the income gap between rich and poor. They found that economic division grew as society became more technological. As people became more industrious, turning beasts into instruments of agriculture, allowing farmers to increase the area of land they cultivated for food, thus increased food production. The agricultural industry developed, feeding people beyond what a person could grow themselves. Before, if you wanted to survive, you did it yourself. Everyone was basically equal. Technology, even the use of animals, changed lives, improving it for some, but not always all.

I will never forget the day when my father announced that his shipyard engineering staff were about to receive their first computers. They would finally be able to work on their drawings and plans on their computers. Like a kid, he was so excited. We had a Commodore computer which everyone shared (5 kids and two adults), but this was a “real” computer. It promised easier working conditions, project management, and faster production times.

A couple months later, he came home tired, frustrated, and cussing up a storm. The computers were finally installed at work. They were so excited, watching the workers carry in the monitors and CPU units, fiddling with all the wiring. The activity was fascinating and the prospects promised of improved work conditions delightful, until they learned the price of the new technology. The memo arrived just after lunch. Their secretaries were going to be laid off. They were no longer needed. They’d been replaced by the computers.

For my father, it was the end of his world. He hadn’t quite figured out the computer process or system and relied upon the secretaries to help him out. And he was semi-illiterate. He could read, but he couldn’t type and couldn’t spell. Getting a handwritten letter from your own father with your name misspelled is an eye-opening experience in this age of literacy. I didn’t realize until then how much effort he’d put into concealing it. The secret was at risk. The computer brought great opportunities to his work life, but years of relying so heavily upon the secretaries to cover for him gave him nightmares.

I did my best to teaching him how to type, sitting with him for hours at our home computer, teaching him the basics. I became the teacher of the family at a very young age, embracing modern technology quickly, taking everything apart and putting it back together (successfully) even then, then showing others how to do the same. He struggled, and managed to hold onto his job for quite a while, until the ship building industry couldn’t hold its own in Seattle.

Secretaries were a form of technology because they improved the quality of life and work for busy employees. Today, computers have replaced them, and secretaries went on into new jobs, embracing new technologies or being hired as personal assistants, same job, new name. The computer is today’s pencil.

As I drive down the past lane, my focus will be on technology in all its forms as related to family history. It could be the pencil. It is likely the computer, printer, and scanner. It is about the web and online access to records and research techniques never before so readily accessible. It will be about the techniques in modern genealogical research, including online databases and archives, educational opportunities, and ways to preserve that research, and your family’s history.

As we share the journey, remember the pencil. Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that changes not only our lives but the world. And we must adapt.