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The Privilege of Time Travel

By Daniel Hubbard | April 26, 2015

One of the privileges of doing any sort of historical research is the sense of traveling through time. It can be what we normally think of as historical research, or genealogical, or even archeological research.

In genealogy we often need to involve general history in our work. It can give us guidance, both by helping us to understand what was possible and how probable it was. It can give us new avenues to try, or convince us to head in another direction.

Sometimes a form of research a bit out of the ordinary comes along. I was working on a family in Sweden and was asked to try to figure out exactly where their land was located. I found the previous owner in land reform records and those led me to the correct spot on a map from 1835. There were no lakes or streams to guide me to the right spot on a modern map but there were some roads that seemed to have been little changed over the last 180 years. They led me to roughly the right spot, just as they would have almost two centuries ago. Yet something was wrong. Something didn’t quite fit. One could say that there were some things that the modern map had forgotten. Luckily, it turned out that the earth remembered.

Looking carefully at the farmers’ fields in a satellite image revealed the lines of old trackways in the crops. Browned spots amidst the green showed where the soil was thin and held too little water. They showed where an old county lane was hiding under the ground. Those parched crops matched the old map. They showed where there had once been roads. I had traveled in time, and a bit of virtual archeology had helped with genealogy.

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