One of the most interesting genealogy tools, for me, are contemporary maps. The world, generically, is both constantly changing and very much the same – the sand ridges and ripples of Marshall county have been around longer than people – aboriginal, european, or colonists from even further – have been in the region. But most of the things we find on maps are man-made, and are constantly in flux as things are created, changed, or removed.
So looking at the University of Minnesota’s John R. Borchert Map Library is always interesting, especially digging through their digitized maps. They have digitized both the 1909 Alden Publishing and the 1916 State of Minnesota plat map books for Marshall County. Using these I was quickly able to find my great-grandfather’s homestead, and to determine the sites for several early cemeteries. Plat maps display who owned the parcels of land in the region. In 1909 and 1916 most of the land was owned by individuals, but there were still large portions owned by railroad companies and the local banks. Finding a plot of land with your family name on it is a bit of a thrill, especially when you see other local parcels with the names of cousins, aunts, uncles, and so on!
Cross-referencing the Minnesota Genealogical Society’s Marshall County cemeteries (page 1 and page 2) is particularly interesting – for example the Rindal Cemetery used to be on the main road leading from Rosewood, and its western border used to align with the street which angled north-eastward, which is why that edge is not North/South aligned.
One of the best uses of the plat maps is to cross-reference census data. If you look at a census page and a map made close to the time of that census, you can often follow the route the census taker took, and determine the location of the household at the time. The plat maps show the roads of Marshall county were not always a grid, but wandered between farms, villages, churches and schools, so tracing the route of the census-taker can be sometimes surprising. You can really enrich your genealogy data with a marker on the map exactly where the family was at a certain point in time.
Hope you can share how you use maps, and which maps you find useful!