Mapping History


by Terry Hogan


There are a thousand and one ways for genealogists to be misled.  Most of the time we help ourselves to be misled by making assumptions we don't know we're making.  Some of the assumptions or pitfalls I have written about in the past and will therefore just mention them.  If you find a relative and a reference to a town that you can't find,  don't assume that the reference is wrong.  Towns came and went.  Towns also changed names.  Town name changes were made to address the postal system needs to eliminate duplicate names in a state.  Town names and town locations sometimes changed to travel to the railroad if the track didn't come to them.  Even streams changed names over time, presumably to accommodate map makers.  A single stream or river sometimes had different names along its length in the early history of an area.  As terrain knowledge improved, a single name would be chosen.


But this article addresses another pitfall.  Once you have found the cited town and you think you've nailed down that elusive ancestor, another problem pops up.  There is no street by that name, or perhaps there is a street by that name, but the street address doesn't work.  Bad history?  Perhaps, or perhaps it is a case of rewriting mapping history.


Let's take a snapshot of Galesburg as an example.  The historical snapshot is an old map of Galesburg before the Santa Fe Railroad arrived. A copy of it was generously provided to me by Norm Winick. The contemporary map is a 2003 "official county highway map" of Knox County, that I picked up at the Galesburg Visitor Center some time ago.


Of course, the most obvious difference is the presence of many more streets as Galesburg grew in size and population, but that generally isn't a problem for genealogists. Other changes, less obvious might be a problem for the unlucky few.   


A few examples of these changes and early "pitfalls" may be helpful.  The old Galesburg map shows two "Pine Streets".  Both ran north and south. The Pine Street on the southeast side of town remains.  The Pine Street on the southwest of town is now Liberty Street, as best as I can make out.   


On the northeast side of town, the old map shows Pearl Street as a north-south street that takes a slight jog to the west at Losey and continues on north of Losey as North Pearl Street.  The contemporary map shows the jog north of Losey now is Beecher Avenue, with Pearl Street ending at Losey.


Some of the changes are probably better known to local residents, at least.  Monmouth Road got a "fee upgrade" at some to Monmouth Boulevard.  Similarly, the equally practically-named "Knoxville Road" became the less practical "Grand Avenue".  It also may not have lived up to its new name of greater aspirations.


The one-block long Locust Street that ran east-west, connecting Chambers and Sumner on the northeast side of town on the old map is now shown as Matthew Street on the contemporary map.  One of the other oddities in the old Galesburg map include three Jefferson Streets.


Perhaps not of particular interest to genealogists, but the old map also showed one other significant interest to contemporary drivers in Galesburg. In the "old days", many more of Galesburg's east-west streets crossed the CB&Q railroad tracks that bisect Galesburg in a northeast to southwest direction.  For example, on the south side of town, First Street Prospect, and Third Street all crossed the "Q" tracks, where now there is only the Fourth Street bridge.


Thus, the unwary genealogist needs to consider that not only did geographic features and entire towns change names years ago, but so did street names within a town.  So don't be too quick to curse an old record as being wrong when the street doesn't exist or the street address doesn't exist.  Check out the old maps.  The record may be perfectly good.  It was the map that changed. Dare I even mention the splitting and the combining of counties, and the redrawing of county lines either arbitrarily, or by the meandering of a river?


They never said genealogy would be easy. It is a lot like playing a game with no rules.  Good hunting.