The initial idea was stimulated by the Irish surname map created on ArcGIS software in 2009 by Dr. Ken Field and Dr. Linda Beale. Using birth records from 1890, they mapped the surnames by county, varying the font size of the name by the number of instances in each location. This map project was called Mapping the Emerald Isle: A Geo-Genealogy of Irish Surnames, and is a wonderful example of the recent drive to develop Historical GIS.
The geo-genealogy concept is aimed at combining digital geography with digital genealogy. In our case, the program is aimed at developing a geo-genealogy infrastructure for Nova Scotia using a unique historico-geographical dataset in the A.F. Church maps. Large historical datasets have not previously been available at the household-level of geography in Canada. This program seeks to digitize and make interactive an extraordinary resource which will be used to build a general Historical GIS framework for geo-genealogy in the province, and for use in continuing research, development, and application.
Over a period of some 24 years, between 1864 and 1888, the cartographer, A. F. Church, published topographic maps with the precise geographical location and surname of each household and workplace for all 18 counties of Nova Scotia (Ferguson, 1969-70).1 Mylar copies of the original lithographs are held by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, and original lithographs of the maps are held by many of the community historical societies around the province. The Church maps are being used to prepare geocodes for households in the province during that period. The surnames then are used as a means to create links to household-level census information and other genealogical and historical data. There are a small class of exceptions, being those households and workplaces in the town and city centres which were too closely placed for Church to write the names on the map.
The census population of Nova Scotia in 1881 was 440,572, distributed over 74,154 dwellings, and these maps provide the means to identify household locations for most of these. The digitization of the A. F. Church maps, the use of household-level property information, and the transcription of directory data to help identify the households in town and city centres, can provide the geographical base for a geo-genealogy architecture for the province.
In the long-term, the platform is understood as a two-sided system with community-based "providers" of genealogical information and individual "users" of that information. We expect that, for some individuals, perhaps for many, these roles may blur together. The programming architecture will be constructed on a modular skeleton, scalable and extensible, to allow for the future development of various plugins and applications. There are grounds to expect that this Historical GIS framework can facilitate the continued efforts of the genealogical and historical communities to digitize their existing records and linkages, and help self-finance ongoing research and development with user fees.
We want to go farther in another way as well to develop the power of Historical GIS. The most urgent “economic problem” in Nova Scotia is rural sustainability. It is not, however, essentially about jobs. Rather, rural communities share the need for defining an intelligible history that has contemporary meaning. We have invested in theoretical work to define genealogical data both at the level of the household and at the level of the community. Community genealogies of this kind can serve to rebuild an intelligible history of purpose and meaning. The steadily widening partnerships that we are building in different parts of the province are the foundation for this exercise in community development.
We began development work in the fall of 2014 with the goal of building a "laboratory prototype", and have now completed that task. We are now assembling resources for the next push, what we are calling "field trials", which will focus on usability and functionality built on top of the engine core, developing the applications that we think will make it compelling for users.
Ferguson, Charles Bruce. (1969-70). "Ambrose F. Church, Map-Maker." (11.8 MB) Dalhousie Review: Vol. 49, No. 4, 505-516.