Thursday, July 28, 2011

GIS, the Humanities, and the Registry of Deeds

Yesterday's New York Times contained an interesting article about how GIS technology is being used by scholars in the Humanities to conduct deeper and richer analysis of past events. As examples, the article reviewed efforts by researchers to better understand the battle of Gettysburg and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the American southwest.

GIS first came to our attention here at the Registry of Deeds back in the late 1990s. The great potential of using digital maps connected to data of all types was immediately apparent, but the cost and availability of the technology back then tended to limit us to projections rather than projects. More recently, we've undertaken a couple of GIS efforts using the resources of MassGIS, the state's mapping agency, which has shown an amazing willingness to work cooperatively with other agencies. Our ultimate objective is to connect registry of deeds records - specifically digital images of recorded documents and subdivision plans - to a digital map. That map would serve as a type of visual index to our document holdings. Hover your cursor over a point of the map, and links to the chain of deeds for that property and any subdivision plans that depict that land would immediately be visible. Creating these links cannot be done programatically; it requires an incredible amount of customized effort by folks familiar with the records and the local geography. And until a critical mass of the records are geocoded - a point that will occur sometime in the future - there is no point in sharing a public interface. But be assured that this effort is underway. With the passage of time (and adequate funding), we will, sometime in the not-to-distant future, roll out an incredible addition to the ability of the public to locate and use the 10 million pages of records in our holdings.

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