GPS & Genealogy

Should genealogy rely on GPS data?  When I recently heard the query, it gave me pause especially since people seemed pretty agitated over the point. I have to admit, it does seem that the value of GPS data is a point worth pondering, at least for a little while.

It is probably worth noting that commercial GPS is really only about 10 years old and is primarily a US national system for establishing global location. To quote the ever popular Wikipedia:

GPS is owned and operated by the U.S. Government as a national resource.

Also, there are at least two competing and one non-competing GPS system online or soon to be online:

  • competing systems will be from the Chinese (Compass) and Europe Galileo (Europe);
  • the non-competing system is a Russian military system.

As competing & complimentary global positioning systems reconcile and move towards international standards and as new systems evolve, there are likely to be changes in nomenclature and other characteristics. At least that is how everything else seems to work in the technology realm.

Let me conclude with a random thought in this space. If we are looking for an old grave… how does GPS deal with continental drift? Since GPS finds/ identifies a location on the planet presumably this means that in 500 years different things will occupy the old location…. in other words, grampa is on the move ;^) Seriously though at the rate of 1.5 -10 cm movement per year, this could create a grave situation in just a few years (sorry I could not avoid the pun).

To me, the biggest benefit of the current US GPS is that it makes Google Earth and the like usable in genealogy software packages. But to my mind, maps continue to be a more stable and reliable long-term form of locational documentation for genealogical purposes.