A genealogical gold mine?

Over the last year or so, I’ve been interested my family’s genealogy.  It’s been quite the adventure.  Most of my mother’s side of the family has been done for some time, but my father’s side was largely unknown (and to a large extent, still unknown).   Much of my successes come from the relatively recent availability of online data, particularly census and marital records.

However, one data set has largely been unavailable – regional history.  Historical events are important in genealogy because it places your family in context with what was going on at the time.  Where there battles near where they lived?  Did they participate in events?  Did those events contribute to their struggles?  One of my goals I have with my genealogical records is not only to incorporate the data into GIS and animations, but also bring in historical data for context in maps.  I want to see how history impacted my family through time.  However, collecting historical data is hard.  Even if you have the time, determining what’s important and where the events occurred would be extremely difficult, particularly for several hundred years of history.

Interestingly, this problem may have been solved.  A BBC software engineer named Gareth Lloyd produced a unique database by accessing Wikipedia.  The database was compiled from Wikipedia pages that contained latitude and longitudes and dates.  Using this database, Mr. Lloyd produce a short animation of the historical event in map form (see here).   The database is now available via Google Fusion.  What this may mean is that it is now possible to integrate in some sort of GIS environment genealogical data AND historical data, at least those historical events that made it to Wikipedia.

Two drawbacks currently exist with these data, however.  First, I haven’t actually downloaded the data and put it into a GIS yet.  Second, I haven’t derived an approach to do the same with my genealogical data either. Thus, right now, this is still a pipe-dream.  Third, it’s unclear that these data will be updated regularly.  It looks like this project was extremely large to assemble and wouldn’t be easy for someone with bandwidth caps to replicate.    Updating these data would be important over the years, but I don’t see a clear approach for this right now.

In the end, if the practical  problems can be worked out, then I think these data are very important for genealogical research.  We’ll have to wait see what happens.