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

linda at fpr.com linda at fpr.com
Mon Nov 1 13:23:38 MDT 2010

Larry wrote:

> In rural Vermont, New York, and so on, yes deeds etc are 20 feet from the oak at 
> the bend in the Oxbow River.  I've stood at that bend in the Oxbow and by using 
> surviving landscape clues pretty much know I'm close to the land being 
> described, if now exactly on it.   Pop out my GPS, and mark that spot.  

Larry, you have a lot more confidence in your ability to correctly
identify natural features than I do in mine.   Long, long ago I spent
considerable time hiking and backpacking in wilderness areas, dependent
upon maps, written trail descriptions, compass and USGS maps to "find my
way," most of the time on trail, but occasionally off.   And later
mentored others in practicing those skills.   All I can say is things
look a lot different "up, close and personal" compared to the mental
model one forms from looking at maps.  Rivers can have many bends and
many oak trees.   Identifying *the one* isn't always all that

If I wanted to find such a bend, or similar natural feature, my
inclination would be to work in the other direction, starting with the
maps, overlaying historical on current.   Building up from my ancestor's
deed description, expanding the area via deed descriptions of the
neighbors, etc, until I had enough of a land area with enough
significant features so I would be able to overlay it on a broader
historical map(s)  with some accuracy, identify the approximate
coordinates of my ancestor's land, and *using that information* go to
the location myself and observe whatever it was I was interested in
observing.  GPS or modern maps are the means for me to "use that
information."  The records, historical maps, current maps are the front
end of my process, GPS and other current navigational aids would be the
means for "getting there", not a description of the "there."  Perhaps
that's just semantics, but to me there's an important difference in
meaning.    I would never go somewhere I thought likely, look around and
assume that *that* bend or *that* tree was the one mentioned in the
original record.  Because from personal experience I know how difficult
it can be to accurately recognize these features and know that they are
*the* significant ones.

I agree with you whole-heartedly about the benefits of experiencing the
"setting" and spatial context for our ancestors' lives.    For me, it
makes the lives more tangible, but perhaps I'm just fooling myself.  
Anyway, this kind of information is important to me, perhaps not so for
everyone.   But my emphasis would be on maps .   Models intended to
represent spatial areas.   GPS seems to me to be a "nice" add-on and
certainly makes navigating to a location a lot easier once one has some
target coordinates.  Another great resource is a local expert (guide), 
intimately familiar with the physical environment and, for historical
research, with the environment in the past.

I do like Google Earth!  a wonderful resource!

Linda Gardner

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