Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Synopsis; 2013 January 20

I always knew that the hand-drawn map that my Uncle Ralph made of the area around their homes near Crow Wing Lake was a treasure -- just how much of a treasure became clear yesterday.  My sis and I knew that before the map could become part of the book, it needed some clarification because the writing was hard to read and there was nothing on which to base distances and scale.  Sue suggested that we get the plat map records of land ownership.  A quick search of the internet brought to light the Atlas (plat book) of Crow Wing County, Minnesota, 1913.

In a few minutes all of the problems that had been associated with Google Maps disappeared. The four current "Crow Wing Lakes" and several other lakes morphed back to the land of  1913 --  through the 1920s and perhaps beyond.  The configuration of the 1913 Crow Wing Lake and Mud Lake (which my uncle called Dead Lake) were very similar to  Ralph's drawing of the two lakes in his map.

Once the lakes were aligned, the vexing problem of "which way was north?" was solved. The world of  Ralph as a boy had been charted by a short stretch of the Mississippi River and the Great Northern Railroad line and he oriented his map on these two features.  However, these two important landmarks of his youth were not due north as it appeared on his map, but due West from his home area around Crow Wing Lake.   When the lakes, the railroad track, and the Mississippi were in proper alignment, then  all of the farms, roads, and landmarks of his letters made sense to me.

As I studied the map, I realized that his map encompassed a world that was only 1 1/2 to 2 miles by nearly 4 miles, a total of not quite 8 square miles.  No wonder he could describe the details of his youth so well, for he often told of walking, hunting, fishing and working on every mile around his home.  Now, I can see that was true, and I now have a good idea of where my aunts and uncles were born, the location over the years of the homes of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors.  I know how far he had to walk or ride a horse to school or to the train station as the map opened up a new window on his world.  Ralph's map is indeed a treasure.

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 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. It's amazing (and awesome) that you found the plat book you needed to help you make sense of the map. I also have noticed, when working with my grandmother's diary, what a small area her world encompassed. It's kind of cool how very familiar people used to be with a small geographic area.

    1. Sheryl, It's that "walking" thing -- they actually walked to see their neighbors. Ralph often told about what a big thing it was to go to Fort Ripley once a month or so for groceries--which looks to be about 6 miles or so ---according to Google Maps. And I do that or more daily, just in the course of daily living.

  2. Joan, I felt sure I had commented on this intriguing post, but every now and then the i-pad does me in and the comment goes to the ether I found it fascinating that you were able to match the old with the new so that it all made sense. Wonderful! What a treat to have a relative who took so much notice of his surroundings AND bothered to document them.

    1. My Uncle Ralph would have been most surprised that he has become the linchpin of our family history, our family historian. In his mind, he was just telling stories and writing letters to entertain his sisters.