Of Homestead Maps and Conversations

A few weeks I found a 1918 homestead map http://www.ourheritage.net/maps/south_ab_ca1918_intro.html for the area around my parent’s farm. I gave a copy to my Dad and the conversations and discussions that have come about because of this map have been incredible. Dad has taken it over to the neighbours (who also want copies) and has brought it out whenever family comes over.

A few things:

It is interesting to note how many families in the area have changed the spelling of their last name at some point in the past 100 years. Usually it’s a simple change – a dropping of a letter or a change of a letter. But even simple changes such as this would make it difficult to track down some of these families in the records. Some familes have changed their name to make it easier to spell -- Hembrough to Hembroff. Others have changed theirs because people kept mispronouncing it. And others changed their names to they would seem more "English."

It is also interesting that a lot of the places in the area are still known by the name of the family who homesteaded it. Our family still calls one of our quarters the “Mikalson” quarter and I’ve heard many other families in the area use similar names and terms. Families who in some cases have been gone from the area for years are still remembered as being connected to the land.

Because of the map I learned a few things about our area that I didn’t know (such as what happened to the church that used to be beside the cemetery 2 miles north of my parent’s farm – the church was torn down and the wood used in the construction of another church in town).

It has also lead to discussions that some areas that were heavily populated in 1918 are sparsely populated today. Often the effect of the Great Depression and consolidation of land. Other areas that were still lease land in 1918 are some of the most populated areas today. Towns, that today only echo as ghost towns, stand proudly on the 1918 maps.

And the map has lead several time to the local community history book being pulled out to see how so and so is related to a name on the map. Few things in a local community are as useful for ending and argument (or for starting new ones some times) as the local history book.

The map itself is an incredibly simple thing – a page of squares with names on it. But it’s the ability of the map to connect to memory that gives it so much power. Now I have to see if I can find some other years of homestead maps on-line. If you've come across some on the internet, let me know.