[APG Public List] Actual Physical Location

Larry Boswell laboswell at rogers.com
Sun Nov 7 14:24:13 MST 2010

On 2010-11-01, at 8:43 PM, Ray Beere Johnson II wrote (in blue),  my answers in black:

>     As a simple example, Larry mentioned parish boundaries in London. I don't know much about London in specific, but let's say I needed to do research there. I would prefer the information that my ancestor's birth was recorded in the records of such and such a parish - which would then be a fairly simple matter to track down - to bare co-ordinates that left me wondering whether or not they applied to my ancestor _before_ or _after_ a parish boundary shifted. The first would make it simple for me to assemble many of the details of their story. The second would leave me searching.

you're assuming that your ancestor's parents didn't switch faiths, or parish churches, while remaining in the same general location.  Rarely a simple process to match parish to residence, but that's not the issue.  Identified locations can be nailed down with coordinates.  You can bring different overlays, or consult different maps (or even boundary descriptions) relying on those coordinates to tell you where that location is now.  Even if your ancestors only lived in that spot for ten years.  Coordinates would then serve more than a few purposes.  One is to tell you where the records created while they were resident may have ended up over time as different jurisdictions took over the area. Second (and here I'm with John 100%, is being able to stand in the middle of a London parking lot and look around, knowing that this is where your ancestor once walked and breathed.  And although London landscape was greatly altered by fire but especially by the blitz in WW2 there are still steeples,  river banks, old surviving structures that have survived the years.  For me the most important coordinates are in Manchester, now a parking lot for a garage, yet beside a canal that has been there a few hundred years.  It's where my gt.grandmother was born, lived, and died.  Features of the canal remain intact.  And though it's pavement and parked cars, with a little imagination it's a workman's cottage....).

The parish boundaries don't change that much, but jurisdictions combine, separate, extend.  And records (the ones that don't fall into private hands) are under this jurisdiction, then that one.  Maybe a local historical society near the coordinates now has them.  The ancestors weren't there through all those changes, but the records with the faint mention of them travelled through those changes ending up who knows where.  The coordinates give you a fighting chance.  And often the more obscure but more interesting records aren't that simple to find or track down through the decades.

>     I never questioned the worth of GPS co-ordinates for many purposes. My point was subtly different. We need to remember the worth of _any_ source depends on how it is used. Assuming you located the correct spot where your ancestor built his boat works, the co-ordinates to that _would_ reasonably be a valuable footnote to help you - and anyone else who was interested - relocate that spot with much less effort.
>     _But_, if another person made an attempt to locate that same spot, thought they got it right, but in fact missed the detail that the river he built on had changed names, and instead listed co-ordinates for a spot miles away, _those_ co-ordinates would be worthless at best - and actively harmful to any researcher who took them at face value.

People get genealogical facts wrong all the time.  I'm just working with a group that got the births, marriages, baptisms of the kids all correctly accounted for, but blew it on the deaths (locations, person, dates).  That happens all the time.  Of course it will happen with coordinates too, but that's where careful documentation of why coordinates X and not coordinates Y were selected.

>     _Or_, even if you pinpointed the correct spot, if you recorded it in such a way that a reader might misunderstand (no matter _how_ accurate the data is, there is _always_ a way to make a mess of it :-) then that record would also be problematic. 

So I work with clients who don't understand the ins and outs of genealogical proof structures, or how facts are established in a genealogical way.  What's different here?  You're always going to get readers who don't get it.  As a professional you have to be sensitive to that possibility and lay out your facts, how arrived at etc with great care.  After that it's the reader's problem if they fall short of understanding because of their own ignorance of the subject and methods at hand. You can only explain so far...

that's as far into your comments and John's as I can get right now. But Ray I think you're setting higher demands for use of coordinates than you would apply to any genealogical fact or consideration arising from research.

By the way,  I'm in the process of switching from a windows pc to a mac (I've finally wised up) and I know there's been some messages that have bit the dust before I could answer them, so if anyone has written me off list and not received a reply, could you send same message again?  My apologies.  The transfer has been smooth, but not without some casualties!



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