26 April 2013

Location, Location, Location

It worked. If Tuffy can come up with a blog post, so can I. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

A friend of mine is currently selling one house and buying another. This friend (call her Dorothy – ”There’s no place like home… there’s no place like home…”) put her place up for sale on a Friday. By Sunday, she had three offers, and had accepted one of them. The following Saturday, she found the house she wanted – a really cute little 1920s craftsman in North Tacoma. Offer made, and accepted. Sold one house and bought another in less than two weeks. Both transactions, knock wood, are proceeding smoothly. I’m still shaking my head.

My own experiences in the real estate market have always been considerably more painful than that, but I still like looking at the places people live. When I’m gawking at houses that I’m not going to buy, I don’t have to be practical. I won't have to scrub the bathrooms, or keep up the yard, or pay for heat, or deal with hundred-year-old plumbing, or make scary big house payments. I don’t care if the schools are terrible, and if it would mean the commute from hell, I won’t have to make it. I won’t have to deal with snow up to here in the winter, or black flies in the spring, or mosquitoes in the summer. Heck, I look at houses all the time that aren't anywhere close to being wheelchair accessible, but it's still fun to look.

People shape the places they live. Looking at a house, especially an old house, and speculating about the lives of the people who lived there is kind of like finding a seashell and wondering about the creature that created it.

In trying to find out about the people in my family, I find myself stalking places as well as people. After my mother’s forbears made the big leap across the ocean, they had apparently done about as much moving around as they were inclined to do for the next couple of centuries. They were farmers, mostly, and tended to put down roots. I spend a lot of time (virtually speaking) in 17th and 18th century Yamaska and St-François-du-Lac (Québec), in 19th century Provement/Lake Leelanau and Centerville and Kasson (Michigan), and in Toledo from 1870 to 1949. I can’t go there in person, but there are all kinds of resources on the ’net; local government websites, and libraries and historical societies, churches and cemeteries. And maps. So many maps. And maps are magic.

For example: How did my paternal grandfather in Racine, Wisconsin meet my grandmother in Chicago? It seemed like quite a stumper until my cousin (Tinker) suggested I look at a map. They’re right across the state line from each other. Duh. I’m not from around there, so I didn’t know that. I still don’t know the details, romance-wise, but location-wise, it’s not as unlikely as I thought it sounded.

Another example: In 1860, my gggreat-grandfather Maxime Payment, and his sister, my gggreat grandaunt Merceline, appear with their respective families in the U.S. Census of Ogdensburg, New York. Now, I knew they eventually wound up in Michigan, and I still don’t know why they left Canada, but New York? Turns out Ogdensburg is right across the river from the ancestral stomping ground in Québec. And getting from there to Michigan? Water all the way.

Over the course of the next decade or so, at least six of the siblings in this family, and their parents, claimed homesteads in Leelanau County, Michigan. They were spread over two townships, so it wasn’t until I looked at the whole map that I realized the Payments on the eastern edge of one Township were really close to the Payments on the western edge of the adjacent Township. Duh.

The 1851 plat (I love maps!) includes the surveyor’s description of the terrain, and the type of tree cover. It is a “township of rich farming lands – surface generally rolling – soil varies from sand to sandy loam; bottomed on clay and mixed with lime and coarse pebbles – soft and spongy – Principal timber sugar [maple] and beech with elm, ash, lynn (?), and on the ridges, hemlock. No waste land in the township.”

Maxime Payment took out a homestead patent on a 160 acre section in Township 28N 13W. His father, François Xavior, patriarch of this Payment clan, claimed an adjoining 40 acres.

Merceline and her husband, Julius Bow, settled on 120 acres in the next Township to the west, in “a valley of superior land.”

François Xavior (Frank) Payment took an L-shaped 160 acres nearby, including a “high hill giving a fine view of Bear Lake.”

Anastasie Payment and her husband John Deering claimed a 160 acre section of “level rich first-rate land.”

Mary Payment and her husband Thomas Deering (brother of Anastasie’s husband John), settled an adjacent 160 acre section.

Jules (Joseph) Payment established his homestead on the 160 acre section adjacent to that.

Superimposing the 1881 plat map on a contemporary satellite view of the same place (God I love technology!) and (roughly, because I don’t feel like messing with it at the moment) pasting the two township maps next to each other, you can still see the section lines marking the original land patents. Rose Hill Cemetery, where Merceline and Frank and their spouses are buried, is right across the road from Maxime Payment’s homestead. (Maxime, now called Michael, and Jules, now called Joseph, and their wives, are buried in the Saint Philip Neri Cemetery in Empire, a few miles away.) There’s still a clearing where the farmhouse is marked on the plat of Jules Payment’s homestead.

There’s no home there now.


  1. Stalking places -- reminds of a pal of mine who purchased a craftsman turn of the century (1900) house in Everett. He did a lot of research at the county courthouse and such. He was able to compile a fascinating story about the love affair of the occupants (one was sea-going). He's also been doing some renovating and coming across interesting historical aspects.

    You're taking the stalking to the next level with the maps. Glad your family wasn't so restless as mine. While the Southern and Pacific Northwest contingent stayed put, the Iowa Scandinavians and the Texas-Nebraska-CA-OR contingent moved A LOT. I'm starting to use basic maps some to piece together stories.

    What software or apps are you using to superimpose the maps?

    1. I mostly use GIMP, although I recently found an incredible online resource for historic maps: http://www.historicmapworks.com/

      The Historic Earth feature magically does what I had been struggling to do by hand. Check it out, and let me know what you think.

    2. Holy smokes Batman! It's a bit overwhelming -- all that's available. However, I was able to overlay some maps from early Texas counties to understand that my kin weren't always moving. Rather they had a ranch on the border of two counties so they'd pop up in different census locations. Wow, I could burn some time getting familiar with this site. Thanks!

    3. Happening across this blog and post, and am rather intrigued by this exchange and the information in it. Is http://historicmapworks.com better than the historic topographic map collection at nationalmap.gov ?

    4. @climbing, I wouldn't say it's better, but it's different. They have a lot of stuff, and I haven't explored it all, but they have maps from a lot of old atlases that show legal boundaries (property ownership) instead of topography. The website allows you to superimpose the plat maps from, say, 1851, on contemporary Google maps. It's really incredibly cool!

  2. I love learning about my ancestors and where they lived/worked. Thanks for sharing yours! As we prepare our own house to be sold, I, too, see the mark we made on this place. I hope the buyers appreciate the many improvements.

    1. I love the way a house reflects all the people who ever lived there. A while ago I saw some pictures of the house where we used to live in Michigan. They did many of the things that I would've liked to do, had we ever found that $$ or time.

  3. Glad to read you are still stalking dead ancestors. :) Ironically my lung cancer dx took over my stalking time. Telling my daughter to just cremate me and throw my ashes anywhere she felt we had a great time, she quipped but how will that affect ancestory.com :)

    1. I see your daughter has got her priorities straight… :)