Geography and Genealogy - Lessons Learned
April 28, 2008
This weekend I traveled to Bristol, Indiana to speak to the Elkhart County Genealogical Society. Had I practiced what I preached my journey there and back would have been more enjoyable.
My 6AM flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Chicago, Illinois went fine. My flight from Chicago to South Bend, Indiana was supposed to have left shortly after my arrival to Chicago. Running through the terminal I arrived at the gate only to learn that my 1:00 departure was delayed until 3:45. Not a big deal, delays happen. I ate lunch. When the airplane arrived at 6:00 they learned it had mechanical problems and switched us to another airplane which left Chicago after 8:00 that night. Shortly after takeoff the pilot mentioned that our short trip to South Bend would only last 15 minutes.
I waited 7 hours in Chicago for a 15 minute flight. Had I known South Bend was so close to Chicago I could have easily taken a bus and arrived in plenty of time to relax and prepare for the seminar the following morning.
The seminar went great. My airplane was to leave the next morning at 9:20. Not too bad, even got to sleep in a bit for a change. When I arrived, the agent announced that our flight was cancelled and that they automatically booked me on the same flight the next day. Well, I learned from my mistakes, and took a bus to Chicago - a short 3 hour drive. I managed to get a stand-by ticket and arrived home in Phoenix just a few hours later than expected.
Not understanding geography in our genealogy research will cause even greater delays. The image below represents Asa Clark Brown's travels. He lived in Massachusetts in 1810. By 1820 he was living in Pennsylvania. He had several children born between 1810-1820. Without understanding the geographical relationship between the two places, it would be difficult to estimate that these children could have been born in New York. (Map courtesy of Legacy version 7, to be released soon. It will map the entire world.)
I recently spoke with a researcher at a conference who has struggled on their ancestor for 30 years. Their family group record stated that John Smith was born in Woodstock, Windham County, Connecticut in 1717. This map, taken from AniMap, is what Connecticut looks like today. Sure enough, Woodstock is in Windham County, Connecticut.
However, using AniMap you can select the year, and AniMap will show you the county boundaries as they existed at the time. The map below shows that not only was Woodstock not in Windham County in 1717 (it was in Suffolk County), it was in a completely different state - Massachusetts! Knowing this, the researcher should be looking in Suffolk County, Massachusetts records for the time period.
For U.S. researchers, understanding this historical geography is made easier both because of the AniMap software and the U.S. County historical database that is included in Legacy Family Tree. As you are typing in the dates and places of your ancestors, if you type in a county that did not exist for the time period, Legacy will immediately display a message:
Legacy will also produce a report of all of your locations, displaying potential historical location problems. This report is accessed by clicking on the Tools menu, then clicking on USA County Verifier.
Before getting too immersed in your research, pull out a map. Learn about the location's surroundings. Use AniMap to make sure you have the correct jurisdiction for the time period. And if you have a 15-minute flight, sometimes it's just faster to walk. :)