Saturday, February 11, 2012

Show Me the Maps!

Am I the only one who appreciates a good map? Am I the only one who when reading about places in non-fiction books would like to see those locations on a map? In the past year I have read several books that could have benefited, in my humble opinion, from at least one map, though more would have been better. Between them there was not a single one. The books, in no particular order, were:

The Great Famine: Ireland's Agony 1845-1852 by Ciaran O'Murchada
A Brief History of the War of the Roses by Desmond Seward
Mistress of the Monarchy by Alison Weir
For Country, Cause and Leader: The Civil War Journal of Charles B. Haydon, by Stephen W. Sears

Maybe I'm just weird in that I like to “see” the places I'm reading about, but I do. In reading about the Irish potato famine it would have been nice to see a map showing those areas worst affected, for example. While learning about the War of the Roses I think it would be helpful to view a map showing where battles raged. Where were the estates where Katherine Swynford lived before, during and after her relationship with John of Gaunt? When Charles Haydon and my gg-grandfather were marching through the wilds of Tennessee or on picket duty in Virginia I would like to know where they were.

Am I just crazy? If I am, please let me know so I can stop writing reviews on Amazon asking where the maps are.

In addition to using maps when reading books like these, I like to inspect maps to see where my ancestors lived and worked. I have used maps to see how far my gg-grandfather's brother commuted to work at the Michigan Buggy Company both before a devastating fire burned the place to the ground and after it rebuilt in a different area of town. I also like to compare plat maps to current satellite images so I can see what my people's land looks like now. To start your own ancestral mapping project see my post on Mapping the Past.

Satellite images can also show you things that a regular map cannot. One of my families lived in Tiffin, Ohio before moving to Kalamazoo. In 1913, a terrible flood struck the city and according to a family account the rushing water carried both the family bible and the piano out of the house. Zooming in to the present location of their home shows just a few houses left on their block and in the general vicinity (compared to the surrounding area). Tellingly, within the arc of the river by their former home are a number of athletic fields and other open areas. Navigating through the FEMA website for a flood plain map of the area indicated that, indeed, the area within the arc of the river is considered to be a one hundred year flood plain.

Clearly, there are so many things we can learn from maps that I couldn't possibly think of them all, let alone discuss them here. Let's just say that I like a good map. If you haven't used many in your own family history research I suggest you take another look. Apparently, the Kalamazoo Public Library has a nice collection of local maps (see their website for details). I wish I could tell you more from first-hand experience, but I only make it to town once per year and try to spend time with my living family so I don't have as much time to investigate my dead family as much as I might like.


  1. I can make any topo map that you might like, for anyplace in the world.
    I, too, live outside of Michigan now, growing up in Kalamazoo. And I access the Kalamazoo gazette obits on a daily basis.

    What names do you research...
    mine are Lemmer, Perry, Bosma, Harrison to name the main ones.

  2. Some of my major Kalamazoo names are Hartman, Gary, Flynn and Harrigan.