ArcNews Online

Spring 2007

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Engineering Firm Uses GIS in a Departure from the Norm

GIS Preserves Family Ties


  • A unique use of GIS.
  • Advanced editing capabilities ease updating.
  • Finished product easily published to the family.
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Initial hard-copy drawings (above and below).
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Digitized drawing.

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Identify and display pictures stored in raster fields.

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Geometric network.

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Using ArcReader to distribute the family tree.

While GIS has generally been used to map where things are, there have been some departures from typical applications, such as choosing sites, targeting market segments, planning distribution networks, responding to emergencies, or redrawing boundaries. One unusual implementation of GIS comes from Khatib & Alami, Esri's distributor in Beirut, Lebanon, where the software technology was used to generate a family tree. A multidisciplinary architectural and engineering consulting company, Khatib & Alami has a corporate commitment to promote, support, and implement GIS technologies in areas and fields of its operation.

The idea of using GIS for the project started when the founder and chairman of Khatib & Alami, professor Mounir Khatib, asked Manal Sayed, the company's GIS design and implementation manager, to have an illustration of the Khatib family tree reproduced. A hand-drawn AO poster size drawing was provided.

Sayed thought reproducing the family tree in GIS would be an interesting challenge. In the process, several enhancements were introduced, including the introduction of the geodatabase, the addition of family females, and leveraging the advanced spatial analysis capabilities of ArcGIS Desktop.

A family tree is generally shown as a tree structure that represents all of one's ancestors. The tree shows the family connections between individuals, including their names and dates of birth and death. Various types of connecting lines show progeny.

One of the main drawbacks of a typical hard-copy drawing was the density of information and the inflexibility of updating and adding new family members. With GIS, this issue was resolved. The ArcGIS advanced editing capabilities, with the possibility of selecting, moving, adding, copying, and pasting, made data updating a flexible and enjoyable task.

Sayed started by designing a geodatabase that contained the people as a polygon feature class where each feature represented one leaf or section of a branch or the trunk, that is, one family person. The feature class included English name; Arabic name; date of birth; file number; origin (family branch); gender: male or female; marital status: single, married, divorced, or widowed; profession; position; living status; mobile number; e-mail; cause of death (if the person is deceased); picture (raster); and general comments. The geodatabase also included the following tables: address, spouse, and children.

First, the existing drawing was scanned and digitized. Next, the geodatabase was populated. Because the initial tree was a static drawing that did not include any data, data collection was started with Khatib's family and used as the pilot. With that data, several thematic maps were produced.

GIS functionality such as zooming, panning, querying, identifying, storing raster fields, and hyperlinking further enriched the family tree. To trace ancestors, descendants, and relationships, a geometric network was built. Each person was considered a junction. Additionally, father/child junctions were connected by an edge. The great-grandfather was assigned as the source.

After the tree was completed, the ArcGIS Publisher extension was used to package the data and publish the family tree for distribution to other family members.

Sayed acknowledges, "Probably this is one of the more bizarre uses for GIS. However, I cannot deny that it was a pleasant exercise that I have personally enjoyed."

More Information

For more information, contact Manal Sayed, Khatib & Alami (e-mail:

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