Should we use map coordinates in location fields?

+10 votes
This is the first time I've seen this.

The Help pages on location fields lack any information about using map coordinates. That said, the help pages DO indicate we should use the name of the place used by the person at that time. That does suggest we do not use map coordinates.

WikiTree profile: Henry Hetreich
in Policy and Style by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (782k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

I hope that the recently-announced MyHeritage maps might renew interest here.

A few thoughts:

  • An explicit "places" data store may be more tidy than raw geolocation fields.
  • Even raw fields should be accompanied by a placename lookup UI.
  • The dominant, open data sources appear to by OSM (via Nominatim) and GeoNames. GeoNames has the very important benefit of including historic places.
  • Both of these data sources also include hierarchy, so it can be understood that a birth in Hanover also took place in Prussia (historic) and Germany (modern).
  • Both of these sources also include precision, so a marriage placed in "Texas" doesn't have to result in a pin in the middle of the state. (But of course can for simple "good enough" mapping tools.)

I am strongly interested in WikiTree including precise, shared places and the resulting mapping tools. I'm happy to lend my mediocre web-stack skills to the cause!

Also for reference, the best example of tacking this problem I have found is at MapZen:

5 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer
I remember a G2G discussion about location names and Chris mentioned something about using map coordinates.  At the time I thought it sounded like a good idea but after seeing the profile you used as an example I think that they should only be used with location names and not be used to replace the names.
by Dale Byers G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
selected by Gaile Connolly
I think including map coordinates is the greatest idea since sliced bread.  There are now many ways in which they can be useful to linking to information and the possibilities for future applications is way beyond our ability to envision.

I do not think it would be a good idea to add map coordinates for locations in the location fields.  That would only foul possible future enhancements of searching on locations.

I suppose it wouldn't be a bad idea to include lat/lon (that's the tekky way of saying latitude and longitude values) data in the bio - maybe a separate heading at the end of the bio if this information is available to be entered there.  That would at least capture the data, which could then be moved to approrpate fields if and/or when they are added to the database records.

You may have already guessed where I'm going with this ... I would love to see 2 more data fields for lat/lon values.  This will enable the values to be passed to whatever external service WikiTree interfaces with to provide all the extra information enrichment that is (and will be) possible.

Playing devil's advocate, however, there is not a whole lot of value out there that can currently be obtained by doing this and it will entail a lot of overhead - both drive space occupied by the WikiTree database and programming time/effort to implement.  As a result, I can well understand if Chris makes a decision not to do this at this time (that's why I'm suggesting a policy/style recommendation to add a heading for location coordinates at the end of bios in order to capture the information when it is available).
You should have made this an answer and not a comment, then I could have upvoted it and even made it the Best Answer.  I agree that to put it in the Biography Section is best and keep the location fields  for location names only.
THANX for the vote of confidence, Dale, but actually I'm trying to avoid accumulating G2G points so rapidly ... I'm embarrassed by the obscene number that I have, which a lot of people think means that I know a lot of stuff.  All it really means is that I have a very big mouth and ask a lot of questions because of all the stuff I don't know.
Gaile is right. It's on the to-do list to add latitude and longitude fields in the database. In fact, we left room for them when we first designed the database years ago. At some point we'll try to automatically guess at them based on the location names. If those location names have the coordinates in them it will probably just make it harder.

Thanks Chris and Dale we love geocoding and GPS coordinates BUT we need them in Bio field to document events in time and location ==> you can generate a timeline on the fly....

And one place has many names and coordinates are useful in genealogy

Cool Swedish test tool for genealogy where the geo information on four family trees are compared to help finding DNA relatives....

To update for clarity, since the 2015 comment of mine above was referenced by Liz in a new question: We no longer plan to add a separate field for geographic coordinates. We decided it would be very difficult for members to maintain those separately. It would add a lot of confusion. Instead, we will try to map standardized place names to their geographic coordinates automatically.

+7 votes


I feel as always why not start with User stories i.e. when would we like to use locations. Lesson learned is that when you start look into the location problem you start realize its not as easy as you can think

User stories/ User cases

A) A User are trying to find where a person has lived and read in the books about this place ==> use location name as it was in the historical time frame in the language the person used

B) A User needs to understand where this place istoday ==> use the location name used today

C) A user is visiting a place and would like to find the place ==> use todays names AND if possible coordinates and a link to Google map and maybe also to historical maps see profile and the video I did how to access the Swedish historical maps for Börstil where we thinks he was born


I feel wikitree is great but the excellent biography part is also Wikitrees BIGGEST PROBLEM as its free text and we have nearly no structure ==> problem exporting into gedcom .....

When we add a reference  in the biography we add a structure like <ref name="xxx">yyy</ref> ==> we get some small kind of structure. I when I quote the Swedish Churchbooks I use as a name tag the unique page reference of Arkiv Digital ==> if everyone did as I do it would be possible to query wikitree for all profiles mention a page in the Swedish churchbook.....

I would like to see that a source also get a timestamp and a geo position and even more structure e.g.

<ref name="xxx" geolat="59.3294N" geolong="18.0686E" name="Stockholm" namehist="Stocksund" name="Birka" source="" Date="19010202">yyy</ref>

If we start having a structure like this we gets the benefits of 

A) Creating Timelines on the fly

B) Ask Wikitree about the locations that are next to me that are in my family tree a common function in todays smartphones.....

C) By repeating the name attribute a place can have more names. My son is today studying in Wroclaw Poland that I have found was the place my Josef Linder lived next to in 1870 and then it was called Breslau and that is the name we found in a phonebook the name Breslau see


by C S G2G6 Pilot (274k points)
+5 votes

I mostly agree with Magnus, but why reinventing the wheel? Geoformat, a microformat is what you need.

See it in action on Wikipedia:

If you're using the plugin Operator on FireFox, you see the possibility to go to that place using Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, Yahoo!, MapQuest or what you want.

Place + lat + lon + zoom level?

I indicate the zoom level as depending on the precision of the address, it may make sense to zoom in or out. In fact the precision you give in the geoformat can be used to determine the zoom level, but you may know exactly the place nevertheless you may choose to display a bigger area.

by Jean-Yvon Landrac G2G1 (1.8k points)

Another cool integration

I understand the Articles in Wikipedia that use Template:GeoGroup will get the coordinates extracted on the fly and displayed on a map

When you say geoformat do you mean the template Coord

No, when I say Geoformat I mean the microformat geoformat.

The Template:GeoGroup makes use of it. And the Template:Coord too I guess.

Operator in action: install it and go to,

As you see Operator detects the semantic of the geoformat and proposes actions relative to that.

Let's have a look at the source of the first item:

<td>Dudley Port Junction</td>
<span class="geo-nondefault">
 <span class="geo-dms" title="Maps, aerial photos, and other data for this location">
  <span class="latitude">52°31′19″N</span>
  <span class="longitude">2°02′36″W</span>

If you're speaking about an article written on "our" Wiki, you're right, we can probably make use of existing templates like this one.  I was referring to article written in html and then a way to create a template.
So the answer to your proposed structured coordinate format has a name: geoformat microformat. See it in action:

But if you want to see Wikipedia articles on a map, I've a better solution as not all articles in Wikipedia have the right template, you can do it the other way round, extracting data from OpenStreetMap (their - our ;-) - database is rich of links to Wikipedia articles). I'll answer to this comment with an example.

On, type in the wizard wikipedia=* in Gästrikland.

That's it.

Well a bit tuning is needed for a nice display.

Far from perfect, better than nothing:

Excellent.... I will look into this... Maybe we can do a small POC

I feel genealogy 2016 should use maps much more than we do. Everyone has a smartphone with a GPS this open up enormous possibilities

I am geocaching myself and I would like to see the same functionality I have in the geocache app also for my family tree...

Give me the nearest event in my family tree..... ==> a list of houses, places is presented related to my family tree and current position...


Another option is to get positions, dates and texts (maybe partially gathered thanks to overpass turbo) and present them on a umap.

Using the start date as sort criterium for the slide mode, you may be able to reach a nice effect.

+4 votes

The sky is the limit and coordinates are always the best way to locate something ==> use coordinates but maybe we should have a template for that....

I found a project (osm4wiki)  taking a wiki category as an argument and displays all coordinates on a map

e.g. Wikipedia category Kategori:Socknar_i_Östra_härad,_Jönköpings_län

and translate it to dots on a map

Category:Works_Progress_Administration_in_Minnesota ==> Map

Category Category:Pre-statehood_history_of_Minnesota ==> Map

My understanding of requirements

As Wikitree have a Wiki engine maybe it could work but then we need to add coordinates in a template and have an extension on the server

Lesson learned: Coordinates are good and we should have a Template like Coord if this osm4wiki doesnt work today we are prepared for the future if we add coordinates in a structured way...

I can see usage 

  1. having a timeline on a profile and use template Coord for all events ==> you plot a map of all locations this person has visit
  2. having all soldier crofts documented and create a category and display a map with those soldier crofts located ==> you can take your iphone and visit all the places..... 
  3. Creating a category for all people related to a person and autogenerate a map
by C S G2G6 Pilot (274k points)
+2 votes

I know this is an old question, but I found it when I started a question about using map coordinates in the datafields.

Looking in the changes, I found the coordinates that had been removed & experimented on the profile a bit. Having the map coordinates in the datafield, with the name of the location in parentheses, lets the clickthrough (when you click the map marker icon following the location) go to the coordinates.

So... 50° 11′ 0″ N, 9° 2′ 0″ E (Germany) takes you to a Google map of the specified location - 50° 11′ 0″ N, 9° 2′ 0″ E (which is in Langenselbold, Germany).

This is a neat feature, but it does look odd in the various displays for a person.

I left it in the profile I was going to ask about ([Grey-296]).

Cheers, Liz

by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (466k points)
I tested it on the death location for - which is a croft in the middle of the woods in central Sweden.

It works.

I have given up on the Google map pins long ago, because they almost never work with the old Swedish names for farms/villages and parishes.
Can you put anything inside the parentheses? I.e.,  can you put the name of the place it was known as at the time of the event? Or does the name have to match the current name associated with the map coordinates?
Yes. In my case the name was hard to find even on a Swedish map, because the spelling has changed. On the google map the nearest named places are almost 10 kilometers away. The coordinates go to the correct, nameless, spot.

in case you missed Chris's post above, he answered a [new question] that I posted... Including map coordinates in datafield is not recommended.

That is just what I expected.

I didn't re-read the whole discussion above, but probably followed it when the thread was new and had a vague memory.

Thanks, Liz, for making a new question of it and thanks for posting the link here. I will immediately go remove the coordinates on the profile where I made the experiment. It was interesting to see that it actually worked.

As for the the standardized place names from FamilySearch that is a feature I have constantly turned off, because it works so badly for Sweden. I did speak against it when we were asked for opinions. Then I tried briefly to get some corrections made at FamilySearch when this was new, but they were just not responsive enough for my patience over there.

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