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