The Log Cabin Chronicles

David Lepitre


Have you been using maps in your research? Are you familiar with the area in which your ancestors lived?

Have the boundaries of the county or township changed since your family lived there? Did the name of the village town or county change after the arrival of your family?

These are all questions that you should be asking yourself before doing research in a strange place. A basic idea of where things are and what they were called will make your work so much easier.

Make an effort to find a map or maps of the location you are going to search. Try to find maps that illustrate each major change in the physical boundaries of the region.

If you were to read that, "Minnie Island, containing about half an acre, rocky and barren was long the fishing ground of David Heath", could you find that place to see where your Heath ancestor spent his working days

If a family record states that your great-great-grandfather was married in Stanstead in the 1820s, but no official record seems to exist in the village,would you realize that at that time "Stanstead" meant the whole "county" and that the county included Potton and Bolton?

If a map is detailed enough to show cemeteries, churches, schools, and the various landmarks noted by your forbears in their writings, it will be invaluable in completing and understanding your family tree.

Years ago I spent some time trying to find ancestors in the various censuses in which Cherry River appeared. I was told by my Grandmother that her family lived in Cherry River. I was beginning to think that they had successfully avoided the census takers every ten years.

The error was mine.

' I had taken my Grandmother literally. Cherry River is in Orford Township, which is in Sherbrooke County. But my family lived just over the line in Magog township. Not in the village of Magog, almost in Cherry River, but just over the township line.

This situation was made perfectly clear when I took the time to look at the Putnam and Grey map of the District of Saint Francis (1863) to be found at the Stanstead Historical Society's Archives.

This map is a gold mine of information. All known landowner's names are marked on the lots they owned, cemeteries, churches, schools and other features are visible. The original cadastral information found in Forest and Clearings and the original grants is used on this map. The lot designations were changed just prior to the 1900s. So a map like the 1863 Putnam and Grey one is a Godsend to the family researcher.

What fascinates me the most is Joseph Bouchette's map of Lower Canada in 1815. It is the most amazing thing. Bouchette was the Surveyor general of Lower Canada and a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Militia. I have marveled at his work for years.

Please remember this map was done prior to airplanes and satellites, before electronic measuring equipment and laser beams.

In 1815 trees covered this land and swamps and bogs were many. Travel was only good for a short few months a year, yet this man and his crew managed to tramp through these forests and bogs to produce a map that is fundamentally accurate today -- a work of art.

Although there is little genealogical information on Bouchette's map it does show you the routes, the few roads, the rivers and the lakes that you ancestor had to have used or avoided in reaching this settlement in its early days. Studying and understanding early maps will help you solve some of the mysteries surrounding your ancestors.

You really should have a look at the best maps you can find before doing a lot of research. They may save you from having to do it twice.

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Copyright © 2005 John Mahoney/Log Cabin Chronicles/02.05