[APG Public List] APGPublicList Digest, Vol 12, Issue 38

Michael Hait michael.hait at hotmail.com
Mon Nov 1 09:53:45 MDT 2010

I don’t see how latitude/longitude coordinates help in any way to discover the physical location in relation to historic boundaries.  The historic boundaries were established using landmarks, and in years of research, I have yet to see a single deed, plat, or boundary-changing law that included latitude/longitude on it.  All of the historic records I have seen used landmarks to denote location.  The best that we can hope to “pinpoint” locations no longer in use would be through the use of these historic records, and the historic landmarks they note.  How does taking the time and effort to “pinpoint” the coordinates of a town or even a house help at all, when that fact will not appear in any of the other records that will be researched?  Would this approach necessitate similarly “pinpointing” the coordinates for each of referenced landmarks?

I have used historic maps in my research in many ways, and have even played with superimposing them onto Google Earth, for exactly the reasons that you note in terms of the topography.  But exact coordinates would not be enough additional help to make the process worthwhile, in my opinion.  I can look at a historic map that shows an ancestral county and see, for example, if a river or a mountain range is there.  Deeds will nearly always mention if the river--or even a small creek that may no longer exist--ran directly through a specific piece of property.

In most of the places that I currently research, the topography has physically changed dramatically even in just the past 100 years.  Most of Prince George’s County, Maryland, for example, is now paved, covered with housing complexes, highways, office buildings, shopping centers.  At the time of the Civil War, much of this same land was covered with small farms or large plantations.  If I am researching the colonial period, the changes have been even more dramatic.  So how would the coordinates of a location provide insight into the historic topography that no longer exists today?

So, in other words, my question remains:  how do the exact coordinates add in any way to the research that historic maps, plats, and deeds (and other historic records) would not cover?

Michael Hait
michael.hait at hotmail.com

From: L. Boswell 
Sent: Monday, November 01, 2010 10:13 AM
To: Michael Hait ; apgpubliclist at apgen.org 
Subject: Re: [APG Public List] APGPublicList Digest, Vol 12, Issue 38

Sorry, maybe I'm missing something here, but I wouldn't say the physical location is less important than the artificial boundaries.  How do you know which boundaries apply if you haven't established the actual physical location first (or early on in the research process)?  I'd say it's fundamentally important on so many levels that I'd have to write a book length reply.

And recording it using applicable names and degrees latitude/longitude just adds another tool to the research bag.  Also makes life easier when you return to a file that you haven't worked on for an extended period of time.  

And topographical features are of paramount importance when addressing the family 'history' of individuals.  The records that we have are often just secondary considerations in their lives, where their lives intersected with some official purpose for a fleeting moment.  Their day to day lives are more likely to be revealed or explained in terms of the physical features of the landscape that they lived in and interacted with on a daily basis.  We cannot gain very much of their 'history' from the records, but we can tease out a lot more by understanding what might have had a day-to-day impact on their lives.  And really the physical location is where you start that process, not the jurisdictional boundaries, not the record creating bodies.  What might have effected how they lived their real lives.  Top of the agenda there is where did they live.  Pinpointing the physical location is of fundamental importance.  


From: Michael Hait <michael.hait at hotmail.com>
To: apgpubliclist at apgen.org
Sent: Mon, November 1, 2010 12:17:16 AM
Subject: Re: [APG Public List] APGPublicList Digest, Vol 12, Issue 38

This has been an interesting discussion, especially since I have little knowledge of the GPS system.

However, here is my argument “against it being useful.”  If we are talking about the precise location of a gravestone, then I can definitely see the benefit of having GPS coordinates.  That is a given, so please understand that I am not referring to this situation at all.

Fortunately, gravestones are one of the least of the records that we use in much of the research we do.  In none of the other research we do would these coordinates be important or even useful.

As genealogists, dealing with records created by various bodies whether civil, religious, private, or otherwise, the physical location of a place (i.e. latitude/longitude) is less important than the artificial boundaries established by these record-creating institutions.  The physical location does not change, but it says nothing of where one would need to find records.  The civil borders of towns, counties, and even states change over time, the borders of church parishes, dioceses, etc., change over time, and families move over time.  Pinpointing them on a map to this degree of accuracy is less important than locating them in relation to the historic county boundaries, historic parish boundaries, etc.  Knowledge of local geography (esp. watercourses), history and laws is what helps us locate the records that we use.

Other than the aforesaid gravestone situation, in what way can the GPS coordinates be considered EVIDENCE? (This is not a rhetorical question, but an honest inquiry.)

Michael Hait
michael.hait at hotmail.com
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <../attachments/20101101/fb3d5a67/attachment.htm>

More information about the APGPublicList mailing list