I often run across 'descendancy charts' --- as plain ASCII text. Mostly of the form:


1  SMYTHE, Joseph William   b: 18 Feb 1858 in LA  d: 26 Jan 1947 in Cecil, LA
   +LESLIE, Mary Ann Tetheny   b: 22 Feb 1858 in GA  d: 3 Jan 1931 in Cecil, LA
  2  SMYTHE, William Joseph   b: 4 Aug 1878  d: 19 Apr 1973
      +WILLIAMS, Vanna
  2  SMYTHE, Mary Ellen "Molley"   b: 11 Sep 1884 in Cecil, Union Parish, La  d: 22 Dec 1952 in El Dorado, Union Co., AR
      +PLANER, William Lawrence   b: 16 Nov 1877 in Union Parish, LA  d: 12 May 1969 in El Dorado, Union Co., AR  m: 1902
          3  [1] PLANER, Ora Ezelle   b: 22 Aug 1902
              +SMYTHESON, Elmer  d: in El Dorado, Union Co., AR  m: 1921
                   4  SMYTHESON, Maurice   b: 5 Nov 1923
                   4  SMYTHESON, Robert Fulton   b: 16 May 1929
                      +JEFFERSON, Lenora Sue
                           5  SMYTHESON, Terry Lane   b: 29 Jul 1956  d: Abt. 1990 in Fayetteville, AR
                           5  SMYTHESON, David   b: 29 Jun 1959
          *2nd Husband of [1] PLANER, Ora Ezelle:
              +SULLIVAN, Burton  d: 29 Dec 1973  m: 1953

Much of which is self explanatory.

That said I'd like to know is there a standard (probably many at a guess) and could someone provide links or pointers for this subject? The use of [n] prefixing a name is not clear to me. And I am reasonably sure there are other forms of 'shorthand' possible. I'm thinking of not only producing this by hand (with suitable editor macros) but adding it to the output possibilities of my GEDCOM library.

  • Welcome to this site, and thanks for your question. I'm not sure I quite understand the title however -- have you missed out a word?
    – user104
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 16:59
  • @ColeValleyGirl Sorry I'm to used to internet short speak, I'll edit...
    – hsmyers
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 17:20
  • Related: genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/2764/56
    – Luke_0
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 17:51
  • @Luke Do you know if FamilyTreeMaker provides a key or chart explanation?
    – hsmyers
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 17:58
  • Unfortunately, I don't have any experience with FamilyTreeMaker (I use GRAMPS).
    – Luke_0
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


Charts are normally graphical and would have lines drawn to connect the people. A text descendancy chart would use equal signs (=) or dashes (-) and bars (|) to simulate the graphical lines. Since this doesn't contain any such symbols, it should be called a descendancy report.

I've looked before and I've never seen standards anywhere for how a text-based descendancy report should be set up. If there were good standards, then genealogy programs would be displaying them the same way.

There are general ideas about a descendancy report that most genealogy programmers follow, namely:

  • indent generations
  • show the generation number (I think it's better to number the children instead)
  • give the descendant's name and his/her spouse's name
  • provide additional information as desired (e.g. sex, birth/death date and/or place)

The actual formatting of the above is really left to the discretion of the programmer.

The [n] prefixing the name in your example is simply a marker to indicate a cross reference. In your example, it shows:

3 [1] PLANER, Ora Ezelle

who was generation 3 and first married Elmer SMYTHESON. Ora had a second marriage to Burton SULLIVAN. She is listed a 2nd time, and that includes the cross reference back to the [1] marker, like this:

*2nd Husband of [1] PLANER, Ora Ezelle:

That is by no means a standard, and is just the way that programmer saw fit to try to make it clear this is the same person. Obviously it wasn't made clear enough because it wasn't obvious to you.

Also, I should point out this report has a few other what I'd call custom abbreviations, such as:

  • a plus sign (+) represents a marriage
  • an asterisk (*) may represent a 2nd marriage or a cross reference

Finally I should point out it is NOT recommended to display surnames in upper case as in "PLANER". This was something done long ago to make the surname stand out in reports, but is no longer recommended because you can lose information as to the actual location of the caps in the name. e.g. "VANWALLENGHAM" may be "VanWallengham", "vanWallengham" or "Vanwallengham".

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