Saturday, August 14, 2004

I got started by looking around at XML specifications for genealogy. There's a nice summary here. Michael Kay, who wrote the book i rely on for XSLT, has some interesting work called GedML, including SAX parser code and XSL transformations to generate HTML representations (which i'll definitely want to do eventually). But i opted to follow the GEDCOM 6.0 beta specification (PDF documentation). It's probably not the last word, but it seems closer to an true XML spec in spirit, and farther from the quirks of GEDCOM, which can hardly be faulted for showing its roots in the stone-age of data processing. There's also some history of various formats here.

Enough data has been done in GEDCOM over the years that i'm betting it's the one with the most traction, and the one most likely to succeed in "future-proofing" data. Even if that bet loses, any structured spec will always be better than none. Note i'm completely skirting the issue of how to get all the GEDCOM data that's currently out there into a more forward-looking representation, though the DAML folks have done some work on this, including one by my colleague Mike Dean. Since i'm essentially starting from scratch, i'll just be entering data by hand for a while.

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Funny coincedence: i was listening to homegirl Nicole C. Mullen's self-titled album while i was finishing the last post on genealogy, only to hear this song.

Dedicated in loving memory of Napoleon Coleman, Sr., Bessie (Smith) Coleman, and Eloise & Isaac Roberson . Words and Music by: Nicole Coleman-Mullen

He was
A beautiful shade of chocolate
She was
A beautiful shade of red
And under the watchful eyes of heaven
Afro Indian girl boy were wed
Little did they know
So long ago
Flowers would come
From the seed they’d sown
Yeah, little did they know
What would come to be
A forest would grow
From the soil and the seed
And these are the branches
In my family tree
Napoleon, Betsy, Isaac, Eloise
Under their branches
I can feel a breeze
Where the leaves from the trees
Make a canopy for me to
Live in the shade, yeah
The leaves from their trees
Made a canopy for me
To live in the shade . . .
I wanna thank you
Cause you took the heat for me
You took the heat for me . . .

I don't have the same background, but i share the sense of gratitude for those who went before and did things i'll never know that allow me to stand here today.

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My dad had an extended visit last month, which among other things gave us some time to talk about family history. We also visited Ellis Island during a trip to Manhatten, which i highly recommend. A better understanding of history would sure help with a lot of issues we face today: instead, we keep reinventing and re-stumbling because we've lost context.

As it turned out, the ancestors we were searching came to the US prior to the big "third wave" of  US immigration, so Ellis Island didn't have any of their records. But this whole process, and other activitives in structured data (like SemanticBible) reignited my interest in capturing our family tree in a reusable way.

My mom gave me some notes from some genealogy work a relative did back in the 70s. How the times have changed! These are foms developed by the Mormons (who have long been leaders in genealogy research because of some peculiar beliefs about being baptized for deceased relatives), filled out by old-fashioned typewriter, or with handwritten notes, along with some xerographic copies (that's what they used to call them) of wedding announcements, obituaries, and the like. There's some interesting correspondence with the head of the Custer County (Nebraska) Historical Society, who said he had collected some 40,000 obituaries (doubtless in some very large file drawers, in the pre-digital age), including some information about my great-grandfather, Arthur Napoleon Robinett(e).

So all this has inspired me to try to organize the information i have in an appropriate way for the digital age: i'm starting with XML, though eventually OWL might be more appropriate. My hope is to enter what i have (already quite a bit for the past three generations), and then get it posted on the web so the extended family can review and hopefully extend and correct what i have.

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