Friday, September 3, 2010

Mapping Genealogical Data - The Albany Cluster

A few weeks ago, a colleague introduced a group of us at work to a resource called Dipity (dipity.com). Dipity is a timeline tool capable of hosting images, video, and text, presenting the results in one of several formats: standard timeline, list, flipbook, or map.

As soon as I saw this, I started imagining how I could try it with genealogical data. I find the ability to map historic events the intriguing part of this resource and for quite a while I've been wanting to find a way to visually associate genealogical events with geographic points.

One of the timelines I've been working on is Genealogy Data Mapping. This is a pretty basic use of Dipity, where my timeline is entirely text-based and consists of genealogical events I could associate with specific dates and locations.

The first thing I tried mapping was census data. I liked the idea of this in order to visualize my ancestors' residential patterns -- places lived and approximate length of time spent in a given place before moving on. Census data has two specific data points to map: (1) an exact date, taken from census form images, and (2) location - city/town, county, state. On the surface this works, but the problem I had was capturing the richness of the family data in a census. Who exactly was I mapping and emphasizing -- the head of household? The family group? One of the children in his/her life over time? I played with a few census time/map plots, but the dissatisfaction frustrated me. Perhaps with a better defined goal for my census timeline, say mapping individual ancestors irrespective of other family members listed in the same household, I'd have better luck. But I decided to move on.

Dipity allows you to enter/map a specific street address in addition to basic city/state geographical data. Thinking about this, I realized I had another type of genealogical data at hand with date/location points -- city directories. I've used the Albany City Directories for the past couple of years to research my paternal grandmother's ancestors, establish relationships, and pinpoint death dates between censuses. As such, I had a nice little set of addresses tied to specific individuals for specific years. I realize city directories technically include an entire family/household, but the entry in the directory itself is for one person, and multiple independent adults living in the same household (borders, extended family, etc.) appear to be listed in the directory individually.

Using my city directory data, I was able to map a interesting cluster in the downtown Albany area:

My McCormick and Gillespie ancestors did a fair amount of moving around Albany in the early part of the 20th century. I found it interesting to see the actual locations of the addresses and noticed patterns of residence. Even though the families moved several times (if not quite often), they tended to stay in specific areas -- the Gillespies particularly tending to reside within the same few blocks. (Clicking on each pin point on the map will bring up the Dipity entry.

I do wish there was a way to color code the entries to distinguish families in the map view, but for a free tool, it's not bad and I think has some interesting possibilities for projects. My next Dipity project will use images to present a standard historic timeline of a single family line.

Genealogy Data Mapping timeline

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