[APG Public List] [APG Members] place names

linda at fpr.com linda at fpr.com
Sat Oct 30 12:13:02 MDT 2010

I wrote:
> > Monday I had a team of physically capably family members searching for
> > my 3g-grandmother's grave.  I had determined the cemetery, section, and
> > with the help of the grounds manager had an anchor point relatively
> > close to where her burial record says she's buried (3 rows and 4 graves
> > over).   Of course no marker was obvious, even with some exploration of
> > indentations that might have been fallen stones covered by grass.   So,
> > for now Grandma Nancy's burial location is specified with a supposed
> > accuracy of a 10'x10' area.  Hardly as satisfying as having a photo of a
> > marker, or a specific GPS location, but galaxies ahead of what I knew

John responded:
> I don't mean to harp on this, but it is important to remember, current
> GPS devices (that I own, anyway) only have an accuracy of +/-15 feet,
> at best. That isn't quite as accurate as your 10'x10'. :-)
Perhaps, but the 10X10 accuracy in actual physical location requires
quite a bit more context detail describing the reference, in this case,
not only the cemetery name and location, but section, row, grave number,
explanation for that specific cemetery's reference system, cited to the
cemetery's grounds manager, including the reference grave he provided,
etc., etc.   All this to connect a burial record to a physical location
in space.

To me the intellectual appeal of latitude/longitude or GPS is the
tantalizing thought that perhaps there's an useful universal reference
system for all locations, so one can easily model spatial relationships.
  Numbers are so appealing!   I do love them.   LOL   So, even if GPS
descriptors in this case are less precise, their appeal would lie in the
ease of use and communication to others, compared to my more elaborate
explanation of where my Grandma Nancy's grave is located.   Of course, I
do not have a GPS so it's a moot point, but if I did I think I would
have taken a reading and recorded the info.   just in case.   GPS
references require the user to also have a GPS, which may be an issue at
this point in time, but less of an issue for future researchers.  For
those with a GPS device, it certainly seems to be a useful "finding
aid."   LOL   except in this situation where there *is no physical
marker* just getting to the approximate location is not particularly
useful because there's nothing to see directly representing the grave,
one still would need the info about the reference grave, and the
relative location to that reference.

So, even though I'm highly attracted to the idea of
GPS/latitude&longitude reference system I don't see the utility in this
situation.  I would have recorded GPS info if I had such a device,
though, which is an indication of my irrational affinity to

This question of how this type of info is used is an issue.   
Latitude/longitude seem useful when working with maps.  Is there any
other context where that info is useful in our research?    GPS seems to
be something useful for those who have the devices as they move through
the physical world.

More thoughts about the usefulness of this type of info as a universal
reference system:

-latitude&longitude are 2 of 4 dimensions.   It's a non-Euclidean
reference system intended to describe the the earth's surface.   Missing
are altitude and time.   I can imagine an easy way to add a time
coordinate.    Altitude is less obvious (how I would know it, why I'd
need it).   Guess if there were places at the same latitude/longitude at
different altitudes (cities in the air or underground, for example, or
what about archealogical/burial sites that have been built over) there
might be a problem and this 3rd spatial dimension would become more

-latitude&longitude describes spatial points.   I want to describe
spatial areas and their relationships.   Seems like GPS
coordinates/latitude & longitude are raw data for the larger spatial
objects I really wish to use, those currently corresponding to the
textual place names found in records and on maps.   

-latitude&longitude reference system is already inadequate as a
universal framework.   There are some humans, granted relatively few in
number, currently spending extended time outside it, long enough so that
it's very feasible that genealogical relevant events can take place
outside this framework (literally not on the earth's surface, the space
station for example).

So, much as I find these numbers (like all numbers) very, very
attractive in the context of my yearning for an universal, integrated
physical model, bypassing those annoying text names with their spelling
variations, irregularities and historical changes, I do not see any way
around our primary reliance upon those names, historical and current,
painstakingly researching the correspondence between all the variations,
identifying boundary changes, figuring out what records were recorded
where and when and where they ended up now.  Figuring out where my
ancestors' property was by understanding who the neighbors were, the
boundary roads, physical features, etc and carefully overlaying on old
and current maps.  The latitude/longitude info may very well be imbedded
in tools I use to accomplish these goals.  But for me, in my work, these
coordinates would not be commonly necessary--they might in *some*
situations be a useful add-on, as Larry and others have been saying,
helpful to disambiguate same-name places, and helpful in locating places
on maps or in the physical world, if for some reason there's some
*finding aid* value-added on top of the other necessary location
descriptors.   I think for those special cases I'll note the coordinates
and where I got the coordinate info.  Not much different than what I'd
do for any explanatory supplemental citation comment, unless Elizabeth
or someone else develops a more thoughtful model.

It's also why, when the question regarding how we deal with historical
vs current place names in our writing & citations arises on this list
and others, as it does with some regularity, I pay attention to the
answers.  whether there is a "standard" or generally accepted practice. 
If there were, this would definitely impact my presentation of my

I no longer feel the urgent need to go back and add latitude/longitude
to my place descriptions.   ROFL.


More information about the APGPublicList mailing list