Here's a great way to get to know a Massachusetts town — walk into
the past by consulting an old map. If you've never tried walking in your
ancestor's footsteps then you are missing a unique experience. Take an
historical map of your town that shows landmarks and buildings and walk
any street that appears on the map. You won't believe how it has
changed. You will notice differences in names, structures, and even
building usage. It's a great activity for kids too. Using a map of the
neighborhood of their school or the street they live on, ask the
children to identify what has changed. This is a fun activity that also
lets them appreciate history. However, you won't be able to take that
walk unless you have an historical Massachusetts town map or a
reproduction of one. Now that the 1870 Beers County Atlas CD Collection
of Massachusetts is available from Piper Publishing, studying the past
has never been easier.
Piper Publishing, located in Easton, Connecticut, works
collaboratively with libraries to reproduce “significant popular
historical academic collections in print and electronic formats.” A
complete list of their offerings appears on their website http://www.piperpublishing.com/.
As every genealogist knows, maps are very valuable research tools.
Having a collection of Massachusetts atlases on a series of CDs opens up
new avenues of sleuthing to family historians because of the amount of
information contained on each map. The Beers family produced many
well-known nineteenth-century maps with detailed data, but it is
difficult to find a complete atlas. Many of them are in poor condition
or have been disbound for framing and sale. By collaborating with the
Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, the Jones Library Special
Collections Library in Amherst, the Massachusetts State Library Rare
Collections, and the Monson Free Library, Piper Publishing was able to
make this new set available to researchers.
There are CDs for Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden,
Hampshire, Middlesex, and Worcester counties. Each one contains a
facsimile of the original maps published by the Beers family, which
means they feature business directories, statistics, a table of
distances, and engravings of significant buildings. The front matter of
each volume presents an overview of the history of the county and each
locality that appears in the atlas.
Beers atlases offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Unlike many
earlier maps, the Beers set includes the names and location of
geographic features such as ponds and hills, schools, churches, mills,
businesses, railroad lines, and the surname and at least first initial
of property or house owners for all but the most densely populated areas
of cities and towns. Finding the name of an ancestor on a map helps
family historians discover exactly where ancestors lived, so that they
may learn more about the area and perhaps even visit the site.
These maps also include cemeteries, which may help you find that
historic graveyard that you cannot locate on a contemporary map. The
cemetery could now be overgrown and forgotten, but its location might be
clearly marked in this resource. Unfortunately for genealogists, there
is no surname index to assist in locating directory listings and land
owners, so you need to know exactly which map to consult.
System requirements are a computer with at least Windows 95/98, and
64 MB of RAM. There is no installation required. If you want to print
out any of the maps you will need Adobe Acrobat, which can be downloaded
for free at http://www.adobe.com/.
Just click on the print command and an entire page of the atlas will be
printed on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. Printing the close-up details is a
little more complicated, but a separate card enclosed with the CD leads
users through the steps. For good quality prints, photo paper is
recommended. Copies suitable for framing are available from the
Aside from the multi-step process required to print out magnified or
zoomed-in views, the CD is otherwise easy to use. Since there is no
software to download, you can begin using it immediately. An
introduction places the maps in historical context and a publisher’s
note provides background on the collaboration that made this possible.
Each map appears quite small and unreadable until you utilize the zoom
feature, which is activated by clicking the + button.
Let’s look at an example of one of the towns in Franklin County —
Heath. A short paragraph outlines some basic historical facts, such as
who founded the town and when it was established. The population
statistics may be of particular interest to genealogists —in Heath there
were 1,200 inhabitants in 1832 but only 613 in 1870, due to emigration.
On page nine of the atlas on the CD it is possible to see a full view
of the town or an inset of Heath Centre. This inset is one of the
special features of the nineteenth-century atlases and oversized maps
that Beers and other companies produced. The full town page is too large
to include the information present in the small town center. Several
clicks on the zoom button allow you to view the inset and see that a
Mrs. H. White lived in the center of town, which is also where S.W.
Barber’s Boot, Shoe and Grocery Store conducted business. While property
boundaries are not visible in a whole town, they are outlined in the
detailed inset maps.
In addition to your stroll through the past, there are several ways
to use these maps. Here are a few other suggestions.
In general, maps are a lot of fun beyond the genealogical material
they contain. They are beautiful glimpses into a world that no longer
exists. Even without a surname index, these CDs are an exciting new tool
for genealogists. Each county CD is reasonably priced in the $35 to $45