Tracing Family Roots

A tale of 20,500+ K/NIBB/S on Alan Jackson's Atari


In the beginning
The best thing I ever did was to get married. The second best was buying an STFM! Within a day or two of acquiring my Atari back in 1989, I created a graphic display using Neochrome to fill a TV screen with colour coded boxes, showing all ancestors of my daughters back to their great, great, great grandparents - well as many as I had then traced. Being computer illiterate, I vividly remember my utter fascination at tentatively substituting my graphic for one in the Silica Shop's starter kit that came with the computer. The presentation used various fade and wipe sequences to switch between pictures and amid two of theirs up came mine! I had found a way to display my genealogical information in a manner that could not be achieved on paper. I was hooked. My computer stood ready to capture all my Jackson and my wife's Knibb data.

[Screen-shot: Family ancestry]

I looked around the PD libraries for genealogical software that I could use to input the data in my hand-written trees. One program I tried was from Flying Pigs in the States. It looked good but I just couldn't get the demo to work properly. The helpfulness of the Atari community, which I've always subsequently valued, became evident when I received a telephone call one morning direct from America. It was the proprietor of Flying Pigs who tried his best to sort out the problem. Eventually, I hit upon two programs that I still use to this day. They were Newgen and Family Tree. I sampled another but rejected it.

Even in those days, it was possible to design innovative hypertext genealogical presentations using text, sound and digitized graphics - I used a video camera as my source capture. I didn't even have a hard disk drive but upgraded my 520STFM to 2.5 MB. Wow! The cleverest program, I thought, was Connections by Dave Becker, to whom I had written requesting just such a program after using his great Autozest. They were in high resolution, so only black and white, and were best used with a RAM disk. Mike Goodman's public domain library submitted one of my efforts to Atari ST Review who in September 1994 carried an item about it, essentially a shell for others to use for their own family data.

[Screen-shot: Connections]

Our cat (top right) led viewers from page to page! Clicking on a set of initials would bring up that person's full name and that of their spouse in the vacant grey areas in the centre. Another click and you could go to a particular tree or an individual record card and scroll through all entries within the same template showing dates of birth, marriage, death, occupation, interests... together with a photograph of that person if available.

Another display program, by Tony Greenwood of Stosser fame, was effectively an HTML forerunner and could produce amazing results for those days in four-colour splendour! I registered and within weeks he produced for me a version that could import 16-colour pictures and it also had the ability to double the width of the screen, allowing the display of family trees to good effect. I had some encouraging feedback from those who purchased my PD disk of it from Mike Goodman. Here's an example of one of the screens - follow the bloodline!

[Screen-shot: Knibb family tree]

Technobox Drafter created a stunning integrated tree that hangs proudly framed in my dining room, ever waiting for the next addition and a new print-out. The same program produced this roundel but I never did manage to create clickable areas, though I had a go with Multiplicity.

[Screen-shot: Roundel]

My K/NIBB/S One Name Study was yet to appear on the scene.

Family Tree and Newgen
Ian and Mark Baker wrote Family Tree and Ted Richards wrote Newgen 5K. The latter produces wonderful charts on fan-folded paper and I use it for our immediate families. Yes, my Epson FX-80 is still going strong. At a recent gathering of K/NIBB/S in Kettering, open to the public, I could see visitors marvelling at a chart spreading sideways across 23 pages, without any glue nor an inch of sticky tape.

Family Tree houses my main databases. Like Newgen, every person entered has a detailed "Person form", including (where found) birth and/or baptismal dates, marriage date and details, for example witnesses, death and/or burial dates, together with the place and/or parish for all events. Occupation and abode are given, plus extra information extracted from various sources like census returns and wills. There are links to parents, spouse(s), children and siblings.

Here is a Falcon screen-shot of William Knibb's "person form" to demonstrate the above. All the names shown are links as are the ticked boxes. They indicate that further information is stored and can be revealed in a dialog box. The dashes alongside the date entries can be set to "c" for circa (about), before, after or none. The single arrow after the marriage date can be clicked to enter a second marriage. Any children of such a marriage would appear only when the second spouse's entry or person form is displayed in place of the first.

[Screen-shot: William Knibb's person form]

You can begin to appreciate the sophistication of Family Tree. It is a superb example of genealogical software having features, displays and routines that even now many expensive PC programs struggle to match. It is a joy, not a labour, to input information. It can import/export GEDCOM files, so it is simple to transfer all selected entries from the IGI (the "Mormon" International Genealogical Index) in that format. Originally I collected the K/NIBB/S as ASCII text and fed them into Superbase, where I was able to sort them out ready for transfer to Family Tree.

The GEDCOM format, designed by the "Mormon" Church, has for some years been the standard for exchanging genealogical data between different programs and platforms. Family Tree fully meets this standard, in my experience, better than most.

The program also allows me to enter quarter dates where I don't have an actual date for an event. I should explain that the birth, marriage and death indices at The General Record Office (GRO) are shown in "quarters", that is, Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep and Oct-Dec. Try searching for a person for whom one only has a quarter date entry in any PC program - they won't be shown in the correct date order, if indeed one can enter a quarter date at all. Family Tree, however, takes such a search in its stride. This is invaluable for someone like me carrying on a One Name Study incorporating thousands of people.

The screen-shot below shows the "edit person" dialog box used for searching superimposed on the previously shown "person form". The asterisk is, of course, a wildcard and could just as well have been used here to return both Knibb and Knibbs entries. The dates specify the period searched and the flag box is available here if required to narrow down the search even further. One could even use the place of birth line but I tend not to do so as it can be too restrictive. Another reason is that searches without that line are returned immediately. The details box is a nice feature that allows me to see a summary of the person selected, in this example, Benjamin Knibb born 21 February 1872 before I click on OK (or the [Return] key) to bring up his full person form. I might decide that he is not the person I'm looking for and can then select another without leaving the dialog box.

[Screen-shot: Benjamin Knibb summary]

I do issue one warning. You won't find any dates such as 23 February 1745/6 which is used by many researchers as a standard for a Julian date in GB pre-1752. Family Tree can't cope with that! Any date within the database after 1 January in a year before and including 1752 will be shown as if the Gregorian calendar had already been adopted. Accordingly, in the example given, the date would appear as 23 February 1746, not 1745. If a similar standard had not been adopted by the person who compiled the source upon which I may have relied, then it's likely that the database date will be "out" by one year. No sweat.

The "flag" feature already mentioned is great when searching for a particular person within a large database. I set the flags for English counties. So searching for a Knibb who married in say Oxford around 1710, I can narrow down the candidates to those in that or an adjoining county, without returning Knibbs born hundreds of miles away or on the other side of the world. Searching on first name only is also a boon when a person might be registered differently in records as Knibb, Knibbs or Nibbs depending who wrote down the surname.

I haven't found a PC program that allows me to backtrack previously viewed entries, whereas Family Tree can, allowing one to alternate between one family and another at random. I can also switch between descendants' charts on screen to an individual record and back again. From father to son, sibling to sibling, nephew to uncle, all without having to go to another screen. I can construct custom trees across generations and families and similarly switch between an individual there and his/her record card.

Accessories are available. ST-Guide will respond to the help feature within Family Tree and fetch the relevant entry. Screen Grabber by Joey Sherman can save a custom tree can and thus with the help of Imagecopy become a GIF image on my K/NIBB/S web site. I can instantly find the day of the week a certain event happened using Calendar by Bill Aycock. A "To-do list" can be created with a simple word processor. Such accessories cancel out the "advantages" of multi-tasking as far as I'm concerned.

The STFM loses out to a Falcon
It was shortly after taking early retirement in 1996 that I acquired a second-hand Atari Falcon030, having first established that it would run my genealogy software, much to the relief of the seller.

Now the K/NIBB/S One Name Study could begin in earnest. With the importation of those in the IGI alongside my wife's and the clockmakers (see below), the database soon exceeded 3,000. I established from Ian that there was virtually no limit to the numbers which the program could handle and he even tweaked it in places to meet a couple of my requests. It grew significantly as I started to enter K/NIBB/S from the GRO and census returns.

The Falcon, upgraded, now holds over 20,500 individuals within Family Tree. Some family groupings are very large (500+ individuals) spanning several generations. I also use the Falcon for most of my correspondence, graphics, scanning, and not least I created my web site on it.

It was originally a basic 4 MB machine which System Solutions expanded to 14 MB. It came with an Apple CD-ROM drive to which I added a SyQuest EZFlyer, mainly for creating back-up files. This was just as well because a few years ago the hard drive gave up the ghost.

Shortly before this I purchased a notebook PC to enable me to access CD-ROMs, such as the 1881 census and UK Info 4. Why, oh why, even then did essentially database content CD-ROMs have to have a Windows/Mac front end? I felt it was another nail in the coffin for our Ataris. The notebook also fared better than the Atari surfing the internet for more K/NIBB/S. I had got into comms a little late with considerable help of colleagues from the West Riding Atari Group (the late lamented WRAG). However by now Bill Gates had taken over the world.

The articles in Atari Computing on HTML were a very helpful source of information as I toyed with the prospect of a K/NIBB/S One Name Study web site. I have to confess though that lately most additions to the web site have been made using a PC but with nothing more sophisticated than Notepad and some borrowed Javascripts.

I do frequently use Imagecopy for graphics and value the fact that it can handle transparent GIFs.

Of course, one joy of the Falcon is that, with a program such as Kobold, it is possible to format 3.5" high-density floppy disks so that they can be read by a PC as well as by an Atari. This means that I can transfer across to my PC graphics and texts from the Falcon for the web site and export family listings/GEDCOM files from Family Tree for transmission to other researchers. Kobold also backs up the database in double quick time.

The K/NIBB/S One Name Study
Why did I start it? Mainly for the reasons given below. I'd also got back as far as I could on my family and to be absolutely honest, as a kid I loved doing jigsaw puzzles. The study has become a huge jigsaw and I get a thrill every time I fit another piece of the jigsaw into place. Some say I have set myself an impossible task placing each and every K/NIBB/S that I can find and they are probably correct but it keeps me out of mischief!

My wife is a first cousin, five generations on of The Reverend William Knibb, a Baptist missionary to Jamaica, who was an eminent emancipationist. William Wilberforce secured the abolition of the slave trade on British ships. It was William Knibb who was responsible, as much as anyone, for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.

Bicentenary Gathering badge

[Image: William Knibb]

William Knibb 1803-1845

I still remember the first time I heard about William Knibb in a history lesson at school. I also recall learning about Joseph Knibb a renowned English clockmaker, alongside Tompion. This was many years before I met my wife, whose mother was a Knibb. Perhaps we were fated to meet! Her distant cousin, Michael Pearman first made the connection between the family and William Knibb. His hand-drawn chart was amazing and he had painstakingly copied all K/NIBB/S from huge sections of the old St Catherine's House Birth, Marriage and Death Registers.

I am convinced that there must be a connection, howsoever remote, between William Knibb and the earlier and famous Knibb family of clockmakers. Having failed through traditional research techniques to find the connection, I decided to embark upon the One Name Study; hence the obscure motto, "Time to Pray?" on the web site. The site has been successful in attracting researchers who surf the internet and nowadays I probably correspond with 90% of K/NIBB/S researchers by the medium of e-mail, rather than by ordinary post.

The One Name Study and web site hasn't exactly taken over my life but I do spend a fair amount of my time on them one way or another.

The database is restricted to those with the surname of K/NIBB/S and their spouses. Call me a chauvinist, if you will, but the offspring of female K/NIBB/S are not included - one has to draw the line somewhere. Exceptionally, I do have a separate database of all the known descendants of William Knibb, whose male offspring did not reach maturity.

Along the way, various other notables have been encountered, for example Richard Henry Nibbs, the Brighton marine painter, Sir George Handley Knibbs, the Australian statistician and James Langford Nibbs, who applied for and was granted a Coat of Arms in 1759 and lately no lesser person than Henry Herbert Asquith, the former prime minister and a first cousin to a great granddaughter of William Knibb.

I have endeavoured to build up family trees of all these but the database's real strength is in the myriad of ordinary individuals and families with no pretensions to fame or fortune. How rewarding then to find out all about William Nibbs, a swing rioter, whose story is told within the pages of the web site.

Generally I request enquirers to let me know what they know about their K/NIBB/S family first. I add to/verify that information with the database and then send out extracts, either in ASCII listing or GEDCOM format, by e-mail or snail mail. By so exchanging information, the database grows for the benefit of others. I host a mailing list of some 80 researchers worldwide, my weekly missive originally generated in Protext on the Atari. I've corresponded with scores of others. Members of the list can apply for various extracts, one being an Excel file of all the K/NIBB/S in the IGI - here's a copy of the first page ordered by Parish, an edited export from Superbase.

[Screen-shot: Spreadsheet extract]

There's a similar file for K/NIBB/S extracted from the GRO birth indices, exported from Family Tree using another feature of it CSV (Comma Separated Values).

Learning the basics of HTML also gave me the opportunity to experiment with some new kinds of tree displays. These can be seen at the web site. I'm particularly happy with the clockmaker's tree. It is pure HMTL (even the red lines). I also had some fun with Muriel's chart, not to mention Adam and Eve's!

The value of the One Name Study is that once everyone in a locality is accounted for, then it becomes that much easier to place individuals within their correct families and/or trace missing persons. By reference to all the available data, I can figure out from where families came or to where they moved.

So that's my Atari life history! Or should I say my wife's? All achieved without a clue about programming or a real understanding of the inner workings of my Atari.

OK a PC would load my 25,500 K/NIBB/S much quicker than does my Falcon. But I'm not in too tearing a hurry that I can't wait 55 seconds or so for them to load once a day. And it's still a fact that I can turn on the Atari and be up and working within the database sooner than it takes a PC to start up, load Windows and open a genealogy program.

My Falcon and an SVGA monitor stay switched on practically all day and every day, the database ready and waiting to be consulted and its contents to be revealed to any enquirers. I also still have my original mono monitor and that comes out of storage to travel with the Falcon to K/NIBB/S gatherings.

MIDI users, gamers and others doubtless feel, as I do, that the Atari still has much to offer. I reckon that I have the best of both worlds combining the "fun" of the Atari with my PC internet friendly set-up. Hopefully the combination will continue to be the case for many years to come, during which I shall be avidly adding to and editing the database.

Three cheers for Atari and MyAtari for keeping the flag flying!

Feel free to come visit the K/NIBB/S One Name Study web site. Who knows, you might even have a K/NIBB/S in your family or know one with whom I might correspond. Fingers crossed for some feedback. Meanwhile you can see my working environment in this month's Tip of the Day.

Alan is a retired solicitor living in Leeds. He also hosts the Jokari website and those of his snooker and tennis clubs.

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #2, March 2004

Copyright 2004 MyAtari magazine