[rdfweb-dev] foaf & genealogy

Ian Davis iand at i...
Mon Dec 2 10:13:18 UTC 2002

On Sunday, 01 December 2002 at 11:06, Danny Ayers wrote:
> I just spotted a post on the GenealogyXML at yahoogroups.com list suggesting
> Topic Maps for genealogy data. RDF *should* be really good for this, with
> the one possible difficulty being how to manage the "the gravestone says he
> died in 2003" kind of data given the state of contexts & reification.
This is something I've spent some time thinking about - I was a keen
genealogist about 10 years ago and keep planning to get back into it
someday! I've got oodles of hand written transcripts of parish
registers, census returns, family bibles, gravestones etc.

It's a rich area for research into trust and reliability of sources.
At first glance the relationships seem logical (father/mother/spouse
etc) but there can be a huge amount of fuzziness involved: people lie
about their age when getting married or joining the army; people
forget how old they are (especially if their parents die young);
illiterate ancestors rely on the parish priest spelling their names
correctly (if there is such a concept as correctness for names); families
often name several generations with the same name (on one branch of my
family I have seven consecutive generations of Joseph Chambers in the
same village, then the cousins start naming their children Joseph and
the Josephs all start having chidren at the same time - which is

The original sources are obviously the most reliable, but (in England)
many of the original parish records have been lost - damp, fire, rats.
The parishes were required to send copies to the diocese every few
years - a great source for transcription errors, or complete
omissions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
transcribed all the English parish registers which (in my day) were
freely accessible via microfilm but were notorious for being
outrageously inaccurate.

> I reckon the bits needed for simple genealogy should sit very nicely
> alongside FOAF, and it would allow the foafnaut to do families too.
I have my immediate family marked up in FOAF, but not for public
consumption yet!

> (fyi, I know close to nothing about gen. - I just thought family trees would
> make a good example use of SVG for 'Unleashed', but it started getting too
> big to fit in the space)
Family tree layout is another interesting problem, especially when
people remarry several times, or marry across generations within the
same general family.

-- Ian

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