Lately I've been exploring old maps of where my settler forbearers lived. When researching my wife's New York family, it's easy to exactly locate where everyone lived, as street names haven't changed in two hundred years. However, settlers in sparsely settled frontiers or in small towns are more elusive.
My Hungarian immigrant family are also pretty easy to locate precisely, as the 1906, 1916, and 1921 Canadian Census gave meridian, range, township, and section for each family. I simply convert that to longitude and latitude and I can drop a pin exactly on the piece of land where they farmed. I'm even working on plotting out the whole Bekevar community.
However, for others, there are no handy coordinates. Sometimes a land record or a census may give some landmarks but that only gives a very rough area at best. Fortunately, starting in the middle of the 19th century, we have beautiful, detailed maps.
I've known for a long time that my great grandparents, Thomas Simpson and Emma Hethcot, migrated to Saskatchewan from Holdrege, Nebraska, in 1915.
Tracing their movements prior to that is actually pretty simple. U.S. Census data and newspaper reports tell me that Thomas moved to Phelps County, Nebraska, with his parents, Nelson and Rachel, and siblings around 1883, when he was 15 years old.Emma moved to Red Willow County, Nebraska, in 1888 with her parents, Nathan and Mary, when she was 17.
Thomas and Emma married in 1890 and lived together with their children in Beaver City in Furnas County, about halfway between each of their families. However, Sometime after 1900, they moved into Holdrege, along with Emma's parents.
Of course, without plotting their locations on a map, I wouldn't have any idea of their proximity to their families.
On a 1916 Center Township map below, we can see the precise locations of two of the Simpson farms. Nelson and Rachel purchased their farm in Center township, in the north of Phelps County. The oldest Simpson sons, James Clement and Emery Joseph (EJ), also purchased farms in this township. James moved to Alberta in 1902 and Nelson died in 1896, so we only see Rachel and EJ Simpson on the map. Living with Rachel was her youngest son, Leslie, who later inherited the farm.
As we can see the 1903 Holdrege map, two Nelson's and Rachel's middle sons. Thomas and Charles, lived in town. Both brothers worked as a travelling salesman, also known as "commercial travellers", frequently travelling around region. Also on the 1903 Holdrege map, I've indicated the house of Nathan and Mary Hethcot, Emma's parents, who moved to town in their retirement shortly after 1900.
Nelson and Rachel's only daughter, Anna, married Charles Shrack in 1889, and farmed in nearby Cottonwood Township, just north of her parents. When Charles and Anna retired sometime before 1916, they also relocated to Holdrege.
While Thomas and James moved away from Holdrege, most of the Simpsons remained in the area for at least another generation. Most have moved away since then: I can find cousins in Texas, California, Massachusetts, and Kansas, but a few still remain in Nebraska, and possibly even in Holdrege today.