Friday, January 18, 2013

Mapping the Past

Every time I find a new address for one of my people I click to an online mapping program to see where it is. Is the house still there? What did it look like? How far was it from the house they lived in the previous year? Was it across town or just around the corner? Where was it in relation to other relatives' homes or to the person's place of business? I want to be able to see all of these things at once. Now, I have a way to get the big picture. I asked my mom if she happened to have an old map of Kalamazoo. Luckily, she did. Now I have begun marking the map to indicate where my people lived and worked.

I started with the low hanging fruit. I copied the known addresses for my ancestors (and some of their kin in whom I am interested) into a spread sheet along with their years in residence. Borrowing my daughter's markers I selected a color for each person/family. Using an online mapping program I then began to mark my map. This is a work in progress, but here's a photograph of what I have so far.

For me this is a qualitative project. Sometimes I may not be able to easily identify the exact house (assuming houses still exist at the specified location) because house numbers changed at least once in Kalamazoo (for more on that and Kalamazoo street name changes see my post). If a house number changed by only a few numbers it won't change the big picture. If I want to know exactly which house my family lived in I'll need to do some more work in historic maps and/or city directories.

As with anything else, mapping the past requires a certain amount of common sense. When an address seems to be too far outside of downtown red flags start popping up in my head. This could indicate that the street name has changed. Opening a historical map of Kalamazoo can often solve that issue (a few are available at

I have also run into another problem with online mapping. According to Google maps, 521 E. Main St. and 517 W. Main St. are in the same place. Clearly, that wasn't correct. The key was realizing that Main street changes to E. Michigan Ave, but at the turn of the last century it was still E. Main St. A quick check of the street index in the 1899 city directory confirmed the location. Problem solved.

In addition to street name changes, other features may have altered since our ancestor's time. For instance, I noticed that Dan Harrigan's property on Portage (just north of Harrigan court) used to back up to one of two mill ponds (apparently long since drained). The mill ponds were just north and south of Lake street east of Portage. I added those to my map as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment