Thursday, March 24, 2011

Research Tip : Era Atlases Help Paint a Historical Picture

With the addition of another older atlas to the Local History Collection, I'm reminded of what a great tool they are for painting a historical picture around the time that our ancestors lived.  A beautiful example of this is the Illustrated Atlas of Kalamazoo County, Michigan, published in 1890 by Wm. C. Sauer. 

This rare atlas, recently purchased on Ebay, is loaded with more than the average plat of the period.  Detailed colorful maps outline each of the county's 16 townships and many of its cities/villages.  Each substantial landholding is clearly identified with the name of the owner and number of acres.  Although not named, roads & rivers/streams are shown along with named lakes.  This atlas adds the identification of school districts and the location of the schools.

City maps diagramming individual lots also have a corresponding street directory.  The diagrams themselves are nicely detailed showing the shapes of the buildings and identifying schools, cemeteries, parks, subdivisions, etc.  This one even shows the layout of the buildings of the Michigan Asylum for the Insane.  Truly unique to this atlas is the Fac-Simile autographs of 306 Kalamazoo County citizens, followed by some county history, photographs of the county officers & board of supervisors and Kalamazoo City town council members, detailed area church history, and several pages of biographies with hand-drawn lithographs of homes.

So, what does this atlas and others like it offer?

1.  Land ownership of family & neighbors
2.  Clues as to where family may have attended school
3.  Church history
4.  Biographical features & photographs/drawings
5.  Detailed county, township, city, village maps
6.  Identification of natural landmarks
7.  Clues as to burial locations
8.  City maps outlining Wards
9.  Location of town hall, churches, railroads, businesses
10.  Identification of now obsolete locations & names

Just to name a few...Have we got your interest yet?

Take a moment to view the list of other plats & atlases housed in the Van Buren District Library Local History collection.   Older volumes may be available to view online, with varying degrees of resolution & clarity.