Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fun with Gazetteers

Meldon J. Wolfgang has a nice article in the current New York Researcher on gazetteers in general and New York's six 19th-century ones in particular, all now visible on line: 1813, 1824, 1836, 1842, 1860, and 1872.
(The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society is planning to issue its own New York Family History Handbook: Research Guide and Gazetteer later this year.)

The old gazetteers are something like a cross between the best parts of a newspaper, an almanac, and a history book. (They're a bit like an encyclopedia annual edition, if you remember those.) Every little place in the state gets its mention -- not as it seemed to a historian or sentimental genealogist a century and a half later, but as it seemed to them right then. I can't think of a better source, pre-photography, for seeing the country as our ancestors saw it.

Closer to home, the 1849 Indiana Gazetteer has four detailed paragraphs on the Indiana Medical College in La Porte (a long-since-faded memory); the names of all the Methodist preachers in every district; and a brutally honest dollar-by-dollar account of the 1830s internal improvements fiascos, from a point in time when it was not quite clear whether canals or railroads were going to save the state. And now, they're almost sinfully easy for us to find and read. Which one is your favorite?

Meldon J. Wolfgang, "Exploring New York State's Nineteenth Century Gazetteers," The New York Researcher, vol. 23, no. 3(Fall 2012): 54-55.

The Indiana Gazetteer, or Topographical Dictionary of the State of Indiana, 3rd edition (Indianapolis: E. Chamberlain, 1849), illustration at 167; digital image, GoogleBooks ( : accessed 16 October 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Fun with Gazetteers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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