Tag Archives: Maps

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? 


Mapping genealogy? Yes, we can!

31 May

I tried something new in my research when I hit a “brickwall”, I decided to take a map and pin all the places my elusive ancestor went (or was recorded being at) to gain a new understanding of his life and where he went. Now most of us, old school style, would have taken a real “paper” map to plot the course of a person’s life, however it is more than efficient (if less romantic) to do it using online tools and websites. So here a few suggestions that could get you started in mapping your genealogy.

Before I start, let me explain why I feel that this is a important feature of researching your family tree, especially online. As I have stated in my first post, genealogy is more than just dates, charts, pedigrees and statistics: it is also living people who had houses, farms, plots of lands, work, etc. They also traveled a lot, this applies effectively to our north-American ancestors who did not shy from immigrating to look for a better quality of life. Sometimes when I looked at a branch of my family tree, I felt I was losing sense of “the big picture” and so I came up with the idea (no, really I did not, it just popped in my head that it was a good idea) that mapping my ancestors trails would help me gain a better understanding of their lives. I started researching this subject, I found a couple of projects and tools on the web that are truly exciting to use.

For the geek genealogists out there, you all know of Google Maps and Google Earth. It is relatively easy to use and it encompasses features that enable you to pin locations, draw routes and shapes as well as pull data to enrich your research like pictures, videos and public data from governments. I tried it myself, I’ve mapped the life of my great-great grand uncle Octave, brother of Joseph Camille my great-great grandfather, in the US using Google Earth.

Mapping the life of Octave Goulet

Mapping the life of Octave Goulet

As you can see from the image above, I colour-coded Octave’s life events and pinned all the locations I found in the data I gathered for him. I have yet to discover new clues as to where he disappeared for 15 years but it did help me to understand where and how he moved. Now all I’m missing is more data.

There are other projects out there that have similar mapping features:

  • Ancestral Atlas :  a UK-based website that enables you to pin your genealogical data on a map and share it (or not) with others. Useful especially if you are looking for more information on one of your ancestors, maybe somebody mapped him already! Registration is free however it costs 20£ a year for full features (view member trees, access historical maps of Ireland, etc.).
  • What was there – Put history in its place: a most exciting project using Google maps. Users can upload, and view, historical photos allowing you to tour cities as if you were in a time machine! The pictures actually overlap the Maps interface and you can trawl through the old streets of New York back in the 20’s for example.
  • Map Your Ancestors : Integrates maps with your Family Search account or Ancestry.com account, you can view a example of Bill Clint0n’s life events here.
  • Boston Streets – Mapping Directory Data : my favourite mapping project so far. It uses the data from Boston city directories, digital collections and other archive materials in order to visualize in context the lives of Boston ancestors. Not only can you relive famous events or discover famous people, the Cowpaths geospatial tool makes it possible for you to input a individual’s address in Boston (let’s say in a 19th century city directory) and overlap other city directories layers to retrace your ancestors footsteps in the city!

Now, this is just a sample from my researching the subject and I do believe that it is a very useful complement to genealogical research. Who knows, you might discover an old image of the neighborhood where your great-grand father lived or a relative that you never knew about. I also can’t stress enough the importance of neighbors in your family tree research, your family was not living in a bubble, they had people living next door, sometimes investigating the house address next to the one you research can yield fascinating results!


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