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Genealogy and the Semantic Web

January 21, 2009 11 comments

My folks have a keen interest in genealogy, and have built up quite an impressive family tree over the past few years. I always thought that genealogy would be a potentially cool application for the semantic web (imagine several independently constructed family trees being connected via their common nodes). It seems I wasn’t the first person to think this as this recent blog post from Dan Brickley suggests. Dan has written quick and horrid Perl script (his words) to convert the common family tree GED format to RDF/XML. A dump of my family tree in RDF/XML can be found here.

The family trees contain information about births and deaths of people. All of these events are then connected to places. I think one weakness of the current conversion script is that it represents the place information as a string, for example:

<foaf: Person rdf:about=”I1884.xml#I1884″>
<foaf:name>William Parsonage</foaf:name>
<foaf:givenname>William</foaf:givenname>
<foaf:family_name>Parsonage</foaf:family_name>
<bio:event>
<bio:Birth>
<bio:date>30 AUG 1721</bio:date>
<bio:place>Birmingham</bio:place>
</bio:Birth>
</bio:event>

It would be far more interesing if instead the place was actually connected to a URI representing the place on the semantic web. For example, in this case there are a number of URIs for Birmingham on the semantic web, for example http://os.rkbexplorer.com/id/osr7000000000000018 from Ordnance Survey or http://sws.geonames.org/2655603/about.rdf from Geonames. The RDF/XML could them be modified as follows:

<foaf: Person rdf:about=”I1884.xml#I1884″>
<foaf:name>William Parsonage</foaf:name>
<foaf:givenname>William</foaf:givenname>
<foaf:family_name>Parsonage</foaf:family_name>
<bio:event>
<bio:Birth>
<bio:date>30 AUG 1721</bio:date>
<bio:place rdf:resource=”http://os.rkbexplorer.com/id/osr7000000000000018“/>
</bio:Birth>
</bio:event>

If I get chance at the weekend I’ll see how much work it will take to add this information to the family tree RDF/XML. It will also be interesting to see if the combination of these two datasets provides extra information and insights to budding genealogists.

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