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Over the last year I have gotten involved in researching my family tree. My paternal grandfather came from a remote island in the Atlantic, along with hundreds of others of his generation, and many of them settled within the same area. As the island is very small, they shared a small number of family names (about 30 surnames, with some variations of the same name).

I would really like to use my GIS knowledge to firstly gather data on where the descendents are living now (the recently established Society has compiled a small database), and then to analyse the data to map out the various family names/bloodlines/races (the islanders are a melting pot of races, absolutely fantastic).

Before I offer my services to the Society, I'd like to know if anyone has undertaken something similar, and what would be the best way to approach it? As mentioned in the question title, I want to use ArcGIS Online so that others will be able to add their info and I would manage the data. Some light googling indicates that geocoding surnames might be part of what I am looking for, but as I have no experience with it I'm not sure.

  • Sounds like a fascinating project. I'm interested to hear ideas, and to see what approach you end up taking. – user3461 Aug 10 '12 at 13:31
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    FlowingData links to this site which might be of relevance, and might give some ideas – Stephen Lead Sep 24 '12 at 5:54
  • +1 for the link, seems like a good place to start as I would first want to analyse the data for my city (where the majority of the islanders settled) and then branch out through the families. – Cindy Jayakumar Sep 25 '12 at 5:32
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    A new Q&A site for Genealogy & Family History is currently in Area 51 area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/43502/… - this question is a GIS one but you may want to also join that – PolyGeo Oct 3 '12 at 21:31
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    I have already committed to that proposal a while ago :) – Cindy Jayakumar Oct 4 '12 at 5:55
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Disclaimer: I haven't done anything similar to what you're trying to do. The following are just some suggestions based on the literature you've posted.

I would really like to use my GIS knowledge to firstly gather data on where the descendents are living now (the recently established Society has compiled a small database), and then to analyse the data to map out the various family names/bloodlines/races (the islanders are a melting pot of races, absolutely fantastic).

You might want to start on that database of descendants. You can geocode the surnames. Plot their current addresses on a map. You'd end up with something like the London Surnames map that Stephen Lead shared. Once you've done that, the real fun begins.

You can then look for patterns on the distribution of surnames. Are they randomly distributed? Clustered? Are they correlated with the presence of other surnames from the island? Is there a common factor on the areas they've settled in? Those are just among the questions you can ask.

You can also link this information with census data of the area. You can check the rates of poverty, educational levels, employment levels, and racial/ethnic composition of areas where they're living now. With these, you can then infer characteristics about persons living in those areas such as their likely race, in addition to area socio-economic status which you can then check with the actual data.

You've mentioned data on bloodlines. If you have data on the ancestors, you can track the migrations, too. You can track the movements of the families through time. I imagine it'd make for a pretty good visualization. :)

Those are just some of the things you can do with your data. I imagine you have your own questions. You should start with those. Oh and consider the Society, too. What things do they care about? What do you care about?

  • Some feedback would be appreciated. – R.K. Oct 9 '12 at 2:38
  • As I mentioned previously, I think my best starting point would be to geocode the surnames, but I have no experience with geocoding so I would need to do some tutorials first. I know the other members of the Society have some really detailed baptismal and military records, and our National Archives contains a lot of information such as passenger manifestos etc of when the boats arrived. I've realised that this could potentially turn into quite a big project, so I'm thinking of first getting my family's data into GIS so I can approach the Society with the example of what I want to do. – Cindy Jayakumar Oct 13 '12 at 9:28
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There is this well-presented site, too: http://www.publicprofiler.org/

The world family name mapping website uses many new and up to date sources to tell you where in the world people with your family name are found. Additionally, we provide lots of interesting facts and figures about the people who share your family name.

  • Great link! Definitely a site I can play around with. Thanks! – Cindy Jayakumar Oct 15 '12 at 5:46
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It is nearly 4 years since you asked this question. During that time I have been doing quite a lot with Family HiStory Mapping using ArcGIS for Desktop, after initially looking at ArcGIS Online and discounting it as being unable to meet several of my key requirements.

I have recently re-examined ArcGIS Online, particularly its Story Maps, and the functionality there has certainly matured to a point where I am now authoring and sharing Family HiStory Maps that way too.

There is an example of a Story Map Journal being used for Family HiStory Mapping as well as an eLearning video tutorial on Making Family HiStory Maps using ArcGIS Online that teaches the techniques involved.

Disclaimer: I am the author of the example and tutorial linked to above.

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