Events - part 2: Roles and Stories

4 June 2021 by Fouke Boss

Centurial v1.21 introduces two much-requested features: Roles and Stories. In this blog, we take a closer look at both of them.

Roles

In the roadmap 2021 poll, the 'Roles and Relationships' milestone came in second (almost first) with over 20% of the votes. Centurial v1.21 introduces the Roles part of that milestone. So what are roles, and how do they differ from relationships?

As we saw earlier, events are genealogically relevant circumstances that happen during a human life. Think births, marriages, deaths, burials, graduations, etc. Some of these events, like births, are attended by one or two people. Others, like a marriage, will be attended by anywhere between 2 and 200 persons.

During each of these events, some attendees will fulfill a special role. During baptism, the godparent will make a profession of faith for the person being baptized. During a marriage, the witnesses will sign the marriage register together with the bride and groom. During a funeral, the eulogist will deliver a funeral oration. Most of the time, these roles are performed by persons close to the newborn/bride/groom/deceased (the owner or subject of the event). Therefore, these roles are genealogically relevant.

Roles are not to be confused with relationships. Relationships define the long-time connection between two persons. Currently, Centurial only supports parent/child and partnership relationships. Other types include family relations like grandmother or nephew, or social constructs like friends or guardians. The main difference between roles and relationships is that roles are for the duration of the event only, while relationships may last months, years, or lifetimes. Centurial will later on also support these other types of relationships.

So how do I add roles to an event?

As an example, let's look at the civil marriage of Theo van Gogh and Anna Carbentus on 21 May 1851. From the original marriage registry, we learn that 4 witnesses were present during the marriage. First, we add these 4 witnesses to the Information Panel as regular persons. In this particular case, all witnesses were siblings of the bride and groom, and so we end up with this configuration, with the bride and groom (1), their parents (2), and the witnesses/siblings (3):

Next, we add the Civil Marriage event to the relationship between Theo and Anna, either by using the event selector or by using one of the new hyperlinks:

We then click the new button, next to the Civil Marriage event, which opens up the new events Claim Panel. As you can see, the panel holds the already familiar event fields: Date, Time, and Place. But it also contains two new fields: Story (1) and Roles (2):

At the same time, the Information Panel now displays the principal role (3). The principal role is the owner or subject of the event, in this case, the bride and groom.

For a start, let's mark one of the siblings as a witness. To do so, select one of the siblings in the Information Panel, and then select Witness from the Role option in the context menu, like this:

Please note how the Roles field in the event Claim Panel is updated to reflect the roles that have been added.

Available roles

Currently, you can set only one role for each person for each event. This means you for example cannot set a person as both Witness and Best man.

Also, it's important to note that the available roles differ per event. There is no use in adding a midwife role to a civil marriage event, and so Centurial does not offer you this option. If you feel an important role is missing for a certain event, please let me know.

There is one exception to this rule: the Attendee role is available for all events. This allows you to mark which persons were present during an event. Setting a role other than Attendee also implies that the person was present at the event.

Editing roles

Setting a role can also be done for multiple persons in one go. First select multiple persons, either by holding the Ctrl key while selecting the persons, by using the selection box, or by any other method available in the Information Panel. Then select the preferred role from the context menu of any of the selected persons.

You can never change the role of the owner of the event (which is the principal role). If you try to do so, Centurial will simply ignore that request. This allows you to set a role for larger groups of persons in one go (for example by pressing Ctrl+A first to select all persons) without having to deselect the owners first.

Also, note how you can set roles for persons even if the source is already correlated. This allows you to easily set roles for sources that are already present in your research projects.

Deleting roles

Of course, you can also remove roles that you have set before. You can either use the [None] option from the Role menu, or you can use the button in the Roles field:

Stories

Another very useful new feature in v1.21 is Stories. Every so often, a source contains a story, a little anecdote, or a fun fact about a person, a relationship, or an event. For example, the birth registry entry for one of my great-grandfathers mentions that the father of the newborn (my great-great-grandfather) was actually too sick to visit the civil registry office himself, and so instead the midwife had to come in and register the baby. The new Stories feature allows you to capture this kind of information in Centurial.

Actually, stories and events are quite similar in nature. Events are genealogically relevant things that happen in the life of a person or a relationship. They have a date and time, and a place. Other people might have a role in them. And a source might share some specific details or stories about that particular event.

A story, on the other hand, is exactly that: a narrative about a person or a relationship. Think “Dad once cut his hand open with a chainsaw” or “My grandma always used to call my granddad 'honey pie'”. A story might involve other people (roles), and might even be set in a certain time or place. In other words, stories are events, but with more emphasis on the narrative aspect and less on the date and place.

How to enter a story

Centurial exploits the similarities between stories and events in order to provide a uniform user experience. First of all, you can add one or more stories to any event. Just open the event Claims Panel, and start entering your story, anecdote, or fun fact:

Notice how the has turned into , indicating that more claims are available in the event Claim Panel.

On the other hand, if you want to add a story to a person or a relationship, you can use the new Add Story button in the Stories section of the person or relationship Claim Panel:

Under the hood, Centurial simply adds an event of type Story to the person or relationship. This also means you can add dates, places, or roles to your story using the button.

Roles and Stories in the timeline

Once you have extracted stories and roles from a source, you correlate the source as usual. After that, the timeline in the Person View will start displaying little icons to indicate roles and stories. If an event has one or more related stories, a icon is displayed:

Also, if a person has fulfilled a specific role during an event, the event in the timeline will have a icon, in this case in the timeline of witness Gerrit Carbentus:

Clicking on the name of the event (Civil Marriage) will open the Event View.

Roles and Stories in the Event View

In the event view, roles and stories are displayed as well:

As with all conclusions, Centurial displays little [1] reference number to indicate which source contains evidence about a certain role or event. Hovering over the reference number with your mouse displays the source reference in the tooltip. Clicking the reference number will open the Source View for that source.

Conclusions for stories

Because of the evidence-based nature of Centurial, there's an interesting note to make about stories. Evidence-based means that you start by collecting claims for a certain fact from several sources, and then correlate the claims into evidence from which you then draw a single conclusion. For example, suppose that Source A states the birth date is 1853, and Source B claims it to be 30 March, and Source C has the birth date as March 1853. Centurial then combines these three claims and calculates that the birth date must be 30 March 1853. Note how none of the claims explicitly states the full date. Instead, the date is derived by combining the claims into one single conclusion.

Stories are claims, just like birth dates and family names. The only difference is that Centurial does not have a way to automatically combine claims and calculate conclusions for stories. Imagine that Source A states that during a marriage event, “Uncle Albert got really drunk” where Source B mentions that “Albert had to be taken to hospital”. For us humans, it's no problem to combine these two stories into one narrative: “Uncle Albert got really drunk and had to be taken to hospital”.

Centurial however is not able to do this. Instead, Centurial will simply display both stories unaltered, one after the other, with a [1] reference number indicating the source of each story. This way, Centurial provides a clean and evidence-based overview of the origins of events and stories. The writing of a compelling and summarizing narrative is then left in the capable hands of you, the researcher.

Do's and Don'ts for Stories

Based on all available features in Centurial, I would recommend:

  • Do use stories for fun facts, anecdotes, and short narratives.
  • Do not use stories to tell a life story. Instead, if a source provides a complete life story, split the longer narrative into shorter stories and events. Then try and extract dates, places, and roles for each of them from the source.
  • Do not use stories to add little notes to yourself, for example, if you need to extract some additional information later on. Instead, use the Notes fields of a source. On top of that, Centurial v1.22 will introduce a new Task List, which will be much more suited for remembering little chores like these.
  • Do use stories for details of an event. For example, when graduating, place the name of the school or university in the story field. I am aware that Centurial can offer much more here (when buying a piece of land or a house, you don't want to add that as a story only), and one day it will. But for now, it's the only available option.

Summary

Roles and stories are two nice new additions, making good use of the new event capabilities of Centurial.