Jul 142010
 

Hello – and welcome to my first post!

I’d like to let everyone know how things are progressing with the software side of AddressingHistory.  I’ve been working on all aspects of AddressingHistory, from the database (at the back-end), storing information from the Post Office Directories, to the public-facing webpages at the front-end.

A large part of the challenge so far has been to take raw text from the Post Office Directories and turn it in to useful, structured data. This is necessary before you, our future users, can search through it – and add your own data!  I’ve created software that parses the Post Office Directory text, extracts the useful information and loads it in to a spatial database (a database with special features to manage geography). For those who are interested, all the software I’ve written is made with Java, using Spring MCV, runs on Apache Tomcat and the database is PostgreSQL with PostGIS extensions.

I’ve written software which allows easy access to the organised, structured information from the Post Office Directories. It’s known as middleware, or an API.

There is a development version of the API available here, where you can change the parameters to search for your own surname, or address:

http://devel.edina.ac.uk:8082/ah/ws/search?surname=Alexander

http://devel.edina.ac.uk:8082/ah/ws/search?profession=baker

You can also search for addressess (using an ‘address=’ parameter) and perform spatial searches on specific areas.  Results are returned in plain-text (comma separated format) or, by default, in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON).

I’ve also been experimenting with Google’s Geocoding API, with some success!  After extracting the address text from each entry in the directories, I send a query to Google’s mapping service in much the same way as you’re probably used to using Google Maps.  It looks as though we can get accurate locations (a process known as ‘geocoding’) for the majority of entries in the Post Office directories.  That will mean we will be asking you to help us locate the small percentage of addresses we cannot automatically geocode, and to help us make sure what we have coded automatically is in the right place. Once we have the coordinates of each entry, they can be shown on a map – and be used to search for results.

So combining the data loaded in the database, the web service to request entries using specific search terms – and the newly geocoded data, we’re able to make some quite interesting maps. For example, this map (unfortunately shown on a modern map of the city for now) is a quick look at the location of some of the bakers, yes, bakers, in Edinburgh, in 1905.

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And here, are all the people with a surname of ‘Alexander’…

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Thanks for reading – there’ll be more soon!

- Joe.

  8 Responses to “Software developments…”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicola Osborne, AddressingHistory. AddressingHistory said: Our software engineer, Joe, has posted a fantastic update on AH http://bit.ly/90BUbG [...]

  2. Great work! but (cries) this *really* should be done with Linked Data and RDF, endless scope and endless data!

  3. Hello,

    Thank you for working on this project, it looks to be a very interesting resource in the future.
    You’ve mentioned about linking information from old Post Office directories, however I was wondering whether you would also be including other older directories covering Edinburgh
    For example:
    # Edin Dir. Williamson’s directory for the City of Edinburgh, Canongate, Leith and suburbs, from 25th May 1773, to 25th May 1774. Edinburgh, 1773. 1774-5; 1775-6; 1776-7; 1777-78; 1778-9; 1780-1; 1782-3; 1783-4 (the 1782 directory with a new title-page and a short supplement); 1784-85; 1786-8 (includes Midlothian); 1788-90; 1790-92; Supplement to 1790-92 [appeared in 1791 and therefore cited as 1791]; Appendix 1792 [cited as 1792]; 1794-96; (1786 includes Midlothian) Williamson’s Directory 1794 is cited as Williamson 1794 to distinguish it from Aitchison’s Directory.

    # Thomas Aitchison. The Edinburgh directory from July 1793 to July 1794. Edinburgh,1793; 1794-95 (includes Musselburgh and Dalkeith); 1795-96 (this and 1796-97 have engraved titles without dates. The dates are taken from the drop-head titles at the beginning of the text); 1796-7; 1797-8; 1799-1800; 1800-1; 1801-2 (1800 with a supplement); 1803 (‘for the year 1803′)

    # John Campbell. The Edinburgh and Leith directory from July 1804 to July 1805. Edinburgh, 1804.

    # Denovan & Co’s Edinburgh and Leith directory from July 1804 to July 1805. Edinburgh, 1804.

    (copied from Scottish Trade Book Index sources list http://www.nls.uk/catalogues/resources/sbti/refer.html )

    Kind regards,

    Tunji Lees

  4. What a fantastic project. My grandfather Robert Archibald was a butcher in Edinburgh in 1901 census. (Arrived in Australia 1911). Before visiting Edinburgh in 2007, I did research on the location of the street and number and I’m sure the street name had changed. I photographed what I thought was the correct place, but really unsure.

    Are you able to compensate for the change of street name problem, between then and now?

    That is an amazing idea. Will be telling my Scottish Interest Group about this one!
    Sincerely
    Jean Campbell

  5. Jean,

    Thank you so much for your lovely comments. We are hoping to build up an idea of which streets have changed name using both the information from the PODs and the expertise of people like you who have been looking into family history or local history and may be able to help us find and identify former road names for different areas of Edinburgh. We would hope to use this information to ensure that a road can be looked up via either current or (known) former names. Do keep an eye on the blog for more on this topic. And if you’d like some flyers or posters about the project for your Scottish Interest Group drop us an email (addressing.history@ed.ac.uk).

    - Nicola Osborne, Social Media Officer for EDINA

  6. Tunji,

    Thank you for your interest in our project and for your detailed comment. I believe some of the directories you mention may be included in the National Library of Scotland post office directory digitisation project which AddressingHistory is working with. The scope of AddressingHistory is initially limited to the three Directories from 1784-5; 1865; 1905-6 but we will try and add more information about these as the beta version of AddressingHistory goes live so do keep an eye on the project website.

    - Nicola Osborne, Social Media Officer for EDINA

  7. Nathan,

    Apologies for the delay in responding to your comment. I think your question warrants a follow up blog post so please keep an eye on the blog over the next few weeks, however the brief answer is that we are are concerned to make the data gathered in AddressingHistory as useful and flexible as possible so we are taking linked data approaches from the outset.

    - Nicola Osborne, Social Media Officer for EDINA

  8. [...] of Scotland to create digitised and geocoded versions of historic post office directories. The sneak preview of the API is looking promising – though i agree with the commenter who suggests it should all be Linked [...]

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