Mapping & Timelines for Genealogy

24 Jun

It’s not the first time I have envisionned mapping my genealogy data in order to get a clearer picture of my ancestors’ lives. Like many of my fellow geek genealogists, my first try was by using Google maps (you can read all about it here). It was interesting work and it enabled me to verify my data thoroughly before using it for any project. I was disappointed though that I couldn’t add layers to my map: like for example a specific address over the years (my ancestors moved a lot for employment purposes).

A recent blog post enabled to try again mapping data with Google Maps, I did so using multiple .CSV files: one for biographical info, the other with residence, employment location, etc. It’s tedious work if you do not have your genealogy data saved in that format, it means you have to rewrite it yourself (I’m unsure about this, it’s possible that some genealogy software can export your data in CSV files. If you do, please share the info!). Here’s what it looks like:

But I was still not satisfied with what it “looked like” so I tried out two other mapping/timeline tools: Heganoo and Storymap


Heganoo is a visual app that displays custom maps on mobiles, tablets and pcs. I tried them out using my genealogy data about Paul Genereux. I found it slightly difficult to use at first (remember to hit the “save” button often to see your changes!) but finally simpler by creating a “slide” for each event of my ancestor. The cool part is that you can link your Dropbox account to import images to each slide. You can add more than one image per slide. Although I would have wished a “credit” or “source” field for each image imported I’m well satisfied with the result.

You can also customise the zoom level of each slide: for example if your ancestor was born in Canada (but you don’t know where precisely), your first slide will zoom out to show the entirety of Canada. Then let’s say you found in in the 1901 Canada Census living on Champlain street in Montreal, you can show the map at street-level. There are many other features (free and paid) that allows you to adjust colours, background images and so on.

Have a look at my Heganoo map here


StoryMapJS is a free tool to help you tell stories on the web that highlight the locations of a series of events. The interesting part is that it offers you to create a “standard” map or a “Gigapixel” map with large artwork images and photographs. It’s very simple to create a map, you choose a location, customise and then on with the next slide. I loved the “credit” field for imported images so I could cite the source, unfortunately I could only add one image per event/slide. There are less custom options than in Heganoo but if you get your hands on the code, I promise that you can pretty much create the map you want.

Have a look at my StoryMap here

The only thing that bugged me is not being able to set the zoom level of my events on the map, my guess is that he can only be customised if you import JSON data from a webfile. (I know it sounds pretty technical but here’s an overwiew of JSON).

So, what do you think? Are there any other mapping tools you use? 


7 Responses to “Mapping & Timelines for Genealogy”

  1. chmjr2 June 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    You have put much hard work into your family history. I think I liked the Story Map the best. However they all were good. I am not sure which one I would use.

    • Marylene June 24, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

      Thank you! I’m convinced that “visual” genealogy can help solve brickwalls and gain perspective on family history. There is so many applications available (the crucial point of our modern web) that finding “one-size-fits-all” is nearly impossible. I would suggest getting your hands dirty with google maps or Umap (openstreetmaps) they are relatively easy to use.

  2. hungrybuffalo June 25, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    Hi Marylene,

    Great work. I have to admit that overall I liked the StoryMap the best – mostly because it zooms the map between the location, so you get an idea of movement between places !

    Google Maps isn’t a great way to tell stories, but I still believe it’s a great tool for helping people visualise things, for example trying to find a link when working with DNA relatives.

    Best Wishes

    • Marylene June 25, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

      Thank you! Your blog post prompted me to try mapping again. I liked StoryMap as well, with enough knowledge of cartography data I believe anything is possible!!
      I agree with you on Google Maps, it’s a tool to help people familiarize themselves with map & data.
      I’m still looking even higher, wondering if it’s possible to cross-reference entire families at a given time (map their addresses, dates, etc) to see if they somehow met?
      Mapping is addictive…
      Best wishes to you as well and thank you for the support!

    • hungrybuffalo June 25, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

      Now that would be a “big data” project I would love to work on … Something for Google to do.

      I’m sure it would show up some unknown family relationships. I found the married sister of one of my immigrant ancestors purely because I recognised a neighbour of my ancestor had an unusual surname (long story – or maybe a blog posting).

  3. The Online Genealogist June 25, 2015 at 11:52 pm #

    Hi again Marylene!

    StoryMap is pretty slick! (Well, besides the non-zoom feature.) I like that StoryMap and Heganoo allow you to add other multimedia; besides maps. I would see StoryMap as a final presentation for non-genealogist family members and Heganoo more for the genealogist’s work in progress.

    So, where’s Octave Goulet’s StoryMap??

    John B.

    • Marylene June 26, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Hi John! Same here, Heganoo is useful as a mobile/portable app: if I plan a genealogy trip one day, I’ll be sure to use it!
      I was thinking of working again on Octave, thanks for reminding me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


News and resources covering social media, search engines, databases, archives, and other such information collections. Since 1998.

Archives @ PAMA

A blog about Peel's historical records by staff at the Region of Peel Archives


Ancient recipes for the modern kitchen

Biblioteket tar saka #librarycase

- a concept, an attitude - and this blog


Fusion Cuisine between Past and Present


There's always something new to learn

On Granny's Trail

...A resource for Western States genealogy and more

Genealogy Lady

Connecting history to the present generation


age is just a (biggish) number

%d bloggers like this: