- Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
- 6 in 10 young Americans don't speak a foreign language fluently.
- 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It's the largest country in Africa.)
- 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim. (It's Hindu—by a landslide.)
- Half of young Americans can't find New York on a map.
I commonly find, even among experienced genealogists, that there is little or no awareness of the geographic resources available online. For researchers, this situation is literally akin to starving to death in the midst of plenty.
Here is the problem in part, the people who would be online and reading this blog post comprise an extremely small percentage of the total population interested in and doing genealogical research. So in effect, I am preaching to the choir. But even among those reading this post, I would guess that some of their most perplexing genealogical problems could be solved by simply going to the maps either on paper or online and looking at spatial relationships.
In one recent post, I showed how to find photographs of locations using Wikipedia and a location's coordinates. I think I need to get a little more basic than that and go to the maps themselves and the kind of information available about historical locations. In many classes I teach, the issue comes up about recording locations. Here is the rule:
The location of any genealogical event is to be recorded as it existed at the time the event occurred.
This seems pretty non-controversial, but in practice, it is often observed more in the breach than in fact. Fundamental to this rule is the idea that you may need to identify the geographical location of an event, i.e. by latitude and longitude, to accurately assess the event's location. OK, I am not saying that if your ancestors came from "New York" that you put the coordinates for New York in your database. What I am saying is that you should be aware of the exact location of an event to the extent possible to avoid making unsupported conclusions about the location of supporting records.
In all genealogical research, this issue involves identifying the political, religious, or cultural jurisdiction associated with a given location. I find a significant number of "brick wall" issues can be resolved with more accurate assessments of the geographic location and the identification of the jurisdiction. So how do I start?
In almost all cases, when I am asked to help someone with finding an ancestor, the first question that I ask is where did the events occur. Automatically, I go to a map and look at the location on a map. I cannot tell you haw many times when I do that, that the person is surprised and has no idea why I am searching on a map for their ancestor's birthplace or whatever.
I guess I am working on a sort-of general series of posts on maps and online resources. If this series progressing like others, I will probably have a few interruptions.