A New Genealogy Research Locality Tool

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Among relatively stable populations before the Industrial Revolution (1760 through about 1830) the significant events of people's lives such as birth/christening, marriage and death/burial tended to occur in small geographic localities.

People of the past were like people of the present. They rarely stayed in one place all their lives, unless compelled to do so. Movement was dictated by topography, political system, socioeconomic status, economic opportunity, and other considerations. Travel was difficult and costly. People frequently followed the easiest course and moved the shortest possible distance when purchasing property, establishing their trades and families, etc. For these reasons, locality is always an important consideration in family history research, especially before the Industrial Revolution.

In family history research, we compile and analyze life events such as birth, marriage, and burial. In terms of family relationships, the shorter the geographic distances between life events, the greater the probability of relationship. The greater the distances between life events, the smaller the probability of relationship.

A simple example will illustrate the point: you have a list of children and you are trying to decide whether they are in the same family. The children have the same parent(s), and appear in a plausible birth pattern. Some of them are christened in one parish, and some of them are christened in another. How can you prove or disprove their relationship?

One highly effective way is to calculate the distance between the parish churches where the christenings occurred. The plausibility of relationship will often be immediately obvious.

Although the example above uses christenings, the same methods can be applied to marriages, burials and entire pedigrees.

We can determine goegraphic proximity by consulting maps, atlases, gazetteers and other tools. We can also compile latitudes and longitudes for places where the events occurred, such as churches, and then calculate the distances between selected points.

Failure to read primary sources, and to utilize maps, atlases, geographic and historical tools, are extremely serious omissions which invariably result in significant pedigree errors.

What follows is a brief article for non-mathematicians who wish to learn how to use geographic coordinates to enhance the quality of their research. The article uses photographs, illustrations and simple instructions to give non-mathematicians a basic understanding of latitude, longitude and distance computations as applied to family research. It is not intended to be historically, geographically nor mathematically comprehensive.

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