Week 6: #52 Ancestors – Maps
By Eilene Lyon
Back in the late 1870s and early 1880s, promoters encouraged people to move to Dakota Territory. Naturally, land speculators played up the rich farmland and other selling points, not necessarily squaring with reality.
My father was born in South Dakota, though he grew up in Oregon. I didn’t have to go back far on the family tree to locate my ancestors in Codington County. The Halses moved there around 1881 from northeastern Iowa. They did not go without company. Drakes, Murphys, Cuttings, Painters, Darringtons, Peepers, Castertons, and others joined them. My Springer and Gusso ancestors moved there from Wisconsin.
My uncle loaned me this book about the history of the county, which contains many family biographies, as well as stories about the various townships and cities, and reminiscences about “the old days.” Inside the back cover is a property ownership map from 1902. (Yes, it does require a magnifying glass!)
Though the Cuttings had left by then, most of the other families remained. I’ve highlighted properties belonging to people connected to my tree by blood or marriage. I may have missed some, but it’s clear that they spread out over a large chunk of Dexter Township, and part of Fuller and Phipps Townships.
The town of Florence, laid out on Christ Stemwedel’s land by Dry Lake, didn’t exist until 1906, so it doesn’t appear. We can see the juxtaposition of people to the land and to each other, but the map tells us nothing about what the area actually looked like.
I visited South Dakota in 2012 and 2015, and learned more about the family properties. Most, if not all, the trees were planted by homesteaders. Try to imagine this country as a vast open prairie, punctuated by pothole lakes. It’s easy to understand, then, how people perished in blizzards in the early homesteading years. I often wonder if my ancestors ever wished they’d stayed in Iowa and Wisconsin.
Genealogy without maps is incomplete. But even maps cannot convey as much as visiting a place in person. A bonus is when family still live in the area, as is the case for Codington County. I met aunts, uncle, and cousins on my two trips which was the real highlight of the journey.
Feature image: Sign welcoming me to Florence, Codington County, South Dakota, home of my Gusso cousins.