GIS Coding Structures and WikiMap for Historians and Genealogists

I have to learn more about GIS. Sitting in an LIS 701 final last semester, suddenly connections between my different worlds (family history or genealogy, public history, library information systems, history of genealogical technology, cemetery obsessions, and now current technologies and their use in historical applications along with history of technology in general) coincided in a flash of insight. The idea came for WikiMap, or map for historical research repositories/locations (MHRL). Cute and clever name to be decided.


The idea is that present day apps have natural GPS features, and I use them non-stop to find my way around unfamiliar locations. Seeing mapping technologies and how they’ve changed since their primordial days in the late 90s, now there is continuous tagging and classifying of places and events. The idea behind this app is to either smush together the needed layers of maps akin to Adobe Photoshop layers.


  1. The layers would start with the basic Google Map. Although it may or may not be “fancy,” I do not know enough of the background coding or development as to its build to make sure that it is useful for this purpose.
  2. Add on top of that an “appative” (app plus additive or added layer) where a person could choose to look up an address and using the app immediately know all of the libraries, archives, historical societies, cemeteries and/or any other vital agency of pertinence (or that added themselves to this pertinence layer). That is the main “value-added” layer.
  3. Another layer would be subsections of mass census ethno-graphic data from the Minnesota Population Center, modern census information (optional layer).
  4. This would help with a cross-layer of historical (back to 1850’s) data. When crossing this data layer with that of layer three, suddenly patterns emerge concerning who used to live somewhere and who lives there now. When these patterns have the contextual usage of finding information from a death record, for instance, a simple address search suddenly becomes the beginning of immediate population with the closest archives, libraries, historical societies, cemeteries, churches, hospitals, funeral parlors, or other places where information of genealogical relevancy is kept.
  5. All of this turns into a self-guided walking tour if in the town in question, or a virtual physical space directory hosting Wikiguides to links to the places that pop up, preferably with user ratings.


Thought-process wise, this is taking yelp, specifying the searching mechanism, and turning it into a historical demography tool. These are the things that literally keep me awake at night, and on the computer past 2:30AM. That, and completing class reading assignments. There is one class (that I know of) at Loyola University Chicago that deals with GIS- UNIV 410, and I want in on it to make this happen.

I currently have a Digital Media class that may address this topic, but I need to crunch data with hard numbers that I probably cannot comprehend. I want to take massive data quantities that are all open source code variables and throw them into a matrix that makes them useful to the lay researcher who only needs a few sources here or there.


For once the source is going to the person and back to the map instead of the document being the end of a research question and the only payment for hard work is following the efforts with analysis and reporting back to the client. Although available before through more clicks than necessary, this tool would make it possible for anyone to walk a town and find the right sources in the right places immediately.

If there were agreements with the publishers of the Handybook for Genealogists to add their records data for the different repositories in their collection, that would be incredibly useful.