Gowanus, Brooklyn

This past weekend I was reading an article in the New York Times about how a diary from the 19th century may indicate a plot in Gowanus Brooklyn destined for development may contain an old slave burial ground. You may recall how this author’s hobbies include genealogy and family history—how I would love to find a 19th century diary. Then, given this interest and the article, it was fantastic to find a map in the article.

Brooklyn in black and white
Brooklyn in black and white

Suffice it to say the map held my fascination for long enough that I saved the paper to post about it today. I was curious about two things, however, one, did the graphic have a credited author—it did not in the print edition—and two, was there a neat interactive version in the online version? The online version is simply a colour version of the map.

Brooklyn, now in colour
Brooklyn, now in colour

But the colour version does one thing that really helps make the graphic complete. In the print edition, there is no clear idea what the different layers are and it did take me a moment or two to understand the overlay. But the online version calls out specifically the map of the area from two different time periods.

Maps like these are my favourite. They blend history and the present. After all the places we live have often been lived in for centuries and they bear the marks of that inhabitance.

As to the first question, credit for the piece goes to Joe Burgess.

The Spellecy’s Wisconsin Land Grant

I have returned from my trip up north to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, from the research side it was not the most successful of trips. I did find some records, but none that answered any of the big questions I had. If anything, I now have far more questions. Most of the information I learned deals with the homesteaded land that John Spellecy received in 1888, at the young age of 70. It turns out by the time he was given the land by the US government, he had already made one contract to sell a portion of it. And so to make some semblance of it, I made this animation to show how the land grant disappeared over only a 12 year period.

How the Spellecy plot disappeared
How the Spellecy plot disappeared

For the curious, the background image is a digitisation of the US government’s original land survey. The A.160 denotes 160 acres, the maximum allowed by a homestead claim.

What It Means to be Black in the US…Census

As I said yesterday, I’m up in northern Wisconsin. But sometime later today I should be starting a long drive back to Chicago. So let me continue with one more piece of genealogy- and information-related content that is especially relevant given recent events. Vox posted an article a couple of days ago that looked at the definition of black via census options. Of particular interest is the supplemental  or sidebar information: whether you could choose your own race or whether it was chosen for you by the enumerator.

A history of choices
A history of choices

Maybe it’s only a coincidence that the 1890 census records went up in flames.

Credit for the piece goes to the Vox graphics department.

Researching the Family History in Ashland, Wisconsin

I’m presently off in the northern reaches of Wisconsin, Ashland in particular, researching part of my family’s history. To aid me in understanding just how this frontier-following family moved over one century, I put together a crude map and a timeline to give me context (and jog my memory) while searching through files in the courthouse.

The movements of the Spellacy family
The movements of the Spellacy family

I am calling the map a migration map. It shows the locations where family members moved to in 1849: Sheboygan (from New Brunswick, Canada). And then how they quickly began to disperse, but slowly head north to Ashland County, before most ultimately headed to the West Coast. (My direct ancestors are that group near the bottom that move back to the in-laws original home of western Massachusetts.)

What I struggle with keeping in mind is that here we are looking at a perfectly rendered and understood map of modern Wisconsin. But in 1849, the state was but one year old and most of the towns to which this family would be going were only a decade or so old and still very much frontier towns without amenities. (Which is why I imagine the women of the family stayed in Milwaukee until the settlements in the north were, well, settled.)

To the right is a timeline. The details are not terribly important and in fact it is poorly designed. But, it was quick to make and will hopefully help me keep the names straight and the places for which I am looking top-of-mind.

Put the two together and you have an example of how I create visualisations for myself just to help me with my own work and research.

The UK’s Genetic Clusters

I always enjoy the combination of two of my interests: data visualisation and genealogy. So this BBC article that references a Nature article piqued my interest. It looks at the distribution of DNA across the United Kingdom and identifies different cluster areas. The most important finding is that the Celts, i.e. the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Cornwall are not a single genetic group. Another finding of interest to me is that the people of Devon are distinct from both Cornwall and Dorset, Devon’s bordering regions. That interest is because my New England ancestors largely hailed from Devon and Dorset.

The colours don't imply relationships, for what it's worth
The colours don’t imply relationships, for what it’s worth

Credit for the piece goes to the Nature article authors.

Understanding Genealogy

I came upon this piece a little while ago and realised that it in some ways paralleled my own interest in genealogy. Basically the story comes down to realising that you probably only know a mere fraction of the stories behind all the people who led up to you. To put in another context: “you’re the product of 127 romances, just in the last 200 years alone”. Anyway, the article is a nice read and explains the math with illustrations.

How the story starts
How the story starts

Credit for the piece goes to Tim Urban.

Genealogy of the Gods

Apologies for the lack of posting yesterday, but I had some travel difficulties returning from Canada. But today, we have a few photos of a family tree from a nice exhibit at the Musée de la Civilisation à Québec, or Museum of Civilisation, on the gods of Mount Olympus. My guided tour (in English) featured only the history of the gods—nothing really on the art or the style of the sculptures. But it was still pretty good.

I have three photos of the family tree, which is first presented in an elaborate glass piece that creates depth. Unfortunately this photo doesn’t quite capture the impressiveness. The next two are a smaller wall installation that highlights those gods that apparently lived on Mount Olympus and were thus the focus of the exhibit.

the tree on glass
the tree on glass
the tree in full
the tree in full
the tree in detrail
the tree in detrail

Credit for the piece goes to the graphics department at the Musée de la Civilisation à Québec.

All in the Family (and the Friends and the Neighbours)

Recently my hobby of my family’s history has focused on my Rusyn (or Ruthenian) roots. However, this recent work out of Stanford University piques my interest in my English heritage, even though much of it is very far back in time. Using my 23 × great-grandfather Reynold de Mohun you can begin to see how it links persons within families, how those lives intersected over time, and the geographical areas where that person lived. In Reynold’s case, it was the 12th–13th centuries in Somerset, England.

Reynold de Mohun
Reynold de Mohun

But as the title kindred implies, this piece is not just about direct family connections, but also the marriages and close cultural links between certainly the elite of British society. Below is how Reynold is connected to King William I, better known as William the Conqueror.

Connecting Reynold de Mohun to William I
Connecting Reynold de Mohun to William I

Family history or genealogy is a topic ripe for data visualisation and information design because it is all about connections. But I have found beyond the common family tree diagram little interesting has been created. This work is a solid start in the right direction.

Credit for the piece goes to Nicholas Jenkins, Elijah Meeks, and Scott Murray.

Heritage Maps

From FlowingData comes a post to an interactive piece by Bloomberg that looks at the geographic distribution of different heritage—read heritage, neither race nor ethnicity—groups. (Its choice of groups, however, is slightly contentious as it omits several important ones, including African-Americans.)

I would say that a typical map like this would simply plot the percent of each county, state, or other sub-division for the selected heritage group. Much like below, as I chose the Irish.

Irish heritage
Irish heritage

Bloomberg’s piece is a bit more interesting than that because of the ability to compare two groups, to see where they overlap and where they diverge. In doing so, they created a divergent choropleth that can show the subtleties and nuances of settlement patterns.

Irish vs German
Irish vs German

Credit for the piece goes to David Yanofsky.