Web Watch: Meeting Place

Web Watch: Meeting Place

What do you get when you combine maps and family history data with social networking and the shared resources of a wiki? A dynamic new Web site called Ancestral Atlas.   You already know maps are useful genealogical tools, but imagine plotting your family history in cyberspace and connecting with...

What do you get when you combine maps and family history data with social networking and the shared resources of a wiki? A dynamic new Web site called Ancestral Atlas.
You already know maps are useful genealogical tools, but imagine plotting your family history in cyberspace and connecting with others researching the same places—perhaps even the same people—as you. Better yet, you can earn cash for the data you contribute. That’s the concept behind Ancestral Atlas. Here’s a preview of the site’s key features.

The secret: location

The idea for Ancestral Atlas began not with newfangled technology, but old cartography. Nick Francis of Past Homes, a company that sells historical maps of Irish townlands (neighborhoods), observed that his customers got excited when told that others had purchased maps of the exact same locations: Because they were researching the same places, those previous buyers might have information relevant to the customers’ own genealogies—even if they weren’t tracing the same ancestors.
So Francis and his colleagues began developing Ancestral Atlas as an online tool that would allow genealogists to search for data and connect with fellow researchers by location.
Although existing tech tools—such as Google Maps and genealogy software—let you create personalized family history maps, Ancestral Atlas goes a step further by adding the social-networking element: The site helps you find cousins based on where your common ancestors lived. And because the site uses wiki technology, subscribers can add other relevant historical or family history content to their postings, such as links and stories.

Entry levels

To use Ancestral Atlas, you’ll have to register—either as a free member or as a paying subscriber.
Setting up a free account is easy: Just pick a user name and password, then confirm your information by following the instructions in the authentication e-mail you’ll receive. Free members can search the site and add their own data; other features require a subscription. The regular fee is 15 pounds (about $22) a year, but Ancestral Atlas is currently offering a lifetime subscription for the annual price.
Social networking is a subscribers-only feature. Suppose you find another user who’s researching your family surname in the same town. If you’re a subscriber, you can communicate with that user through the site’s secure messaging system: Simply use the contact button to send the person a message, and Ancestral Atlas will e-mail that user a notification that your message is waiting. Conversely, if a free member finds you, he or she won’t be able to make contact without buying a subscription.
Paying members also can save searches for easy access later, turn off ads and view licensed content, including detailed 1901 Ordnance Survey maps of England and Wales, and Past Homes’ Ireland maps.
Subscribers earn commissions from the data they make public, too—an attractive concept for those who don’t like the idea of a Web site making money off the information users contribute freely.
In essence, the site rewards you when other users find your data desirable enough to pay for: When a free member wants to contact you, he or she will be prompted to upgrade. If that user does subscribe, Ancestral Atlas will pay you 10 percent of that user’s subscription fee. To take advantage, you need a PayPal account (that’s how Ancestral Atlas deposits your commissions), and you have to hit the minimum of 15 pounds before you’ll receive a payment.

Site map

You’ll probably want to sign up for a free membership to get acquainted with Ancestral Atlas. Once you’ve registered, select Map Your Data from the navigation bar to get started. From here, you can search for any ancestral place—simply select a country and enter the location (for US places, we recommend including both the city and state).

Ancestral Atlas’ mapping functions are powered by Google Maps, so if you’ve used that site, the interface will look familiar. As in Google Maps, you can switch between the map, a satellite view and a hybrid of the two.

Currently, much of the user-contributed data is attached to places in the United Kingdom, where Ancestral Atlas’ ownership is based. Let’s look at Dukinfield, an English town I added events to.
As you move around the map, you’ll see a smattering of colored map-pin icons—click one, and a box pops up with details on that location. (To find out what the colors signify, hit the Map Key button.) In Dukinfield, you’ll find markers for Gorton Cemetery and Partington’s Maternity Home, among other locations. If a place has an associated event, it will show up on the left side of the screen under the Events tab.
 Ancestral Atlas event view
For example, the birth of Martha Clayton shows up when you click the icon marking Dukinfield Parish; press the green arrow to view details such as the date (1829) and submitter (photodetective). You can search for names and dates from a bar across the top of the map.
The left side of the screen contains a frame with four tabs: Places, Search, Events and People. To enter your own data, go to the Places tab and search for a specific location. After the map loads, go to the Events tab and hit the Add New Event button. Fill out the form that pops up with event details, including whether you want the event to be public (viewable by other users) or private (hidden).
On the People tab, you can enter relatives without adding an event first. This also acts as a name index for everyone you’ve added. The Search tab lets you recenter or change your search criteria.
The easiest way to add data, though, is via GEDCOM upload, a feature that had just debuted at press time. Other planned features include “life maps,” which plot out all events linked to one person or events linked to everyone in a specified family.
For those with UK roots, the ability to meld historical and modern maps with your ancestral data is well worth the subscription fee. As a beta site, Ancestral Atlas hasn’t realized its full potential yet—but it’s definitely worth a try, and promises to become more useful as new users add their data.

From the September 2009 Family Tree Magazine