13 January 2017

Plat Maps and Surnames

Many of the plat maps that I've been posting for villages over the last couple months have surnames listed on some of the plots. Because there have been several questions about specific surnames found on the village maps, I felt that I needed to address the issue.

Plat maps show the plot of land for a proposed settlement. They might include what portions of the land was good for agriculture and what portion was good for farmsteads and how the farmsteads may be laid out.  Village maps that were created later that included street names, locations of churches, cemeteries, wells, orchards and farmsteads often included the surnames of the village's residents. This information was drawn from the memories of those who lived there and left on their own accord, or were forced to leave in the evacuations of ethnic German villages in Russia during World War II.

Either way, the information on these maps is almost entirely drawn from memory.

The surnames and their locations on the plat map, although they seem like a great find, should be considered no more than a snapshot in time of what and who was a part of the village and not as absolute fact. As far as I'm aware, there is no documentation backing up the accuracy of the surnames listed or the location of the homes within the villages on most of the plat maps. The names found on the maps should serve as a piece of information in your research that requires further validation with sources that are specific to surname research.

In my own research, for example, the Straßburg map seemed like it would be a home run.  My Erck family (originally spelled Erk) arrived in Straßburg in the year it was founded, 1808. My 4x great-grandfather, Ludwig Erck, and family left Russia in 1886 for the United States.  The date on the Straßburg village map is 1940. Fifty-four years had passed between them leaving Russia and the creation of the map, and the Ercks were nowhere to be found on it. Not even one stray Erck on it. They had, understandably, faded from the memory of those who were providing the information.  But from emigration records, church records, census records, voter records, Crown debt records and the letters from the homeland collections, I know the Ercks were there. I may not know their street address, who their neighbors were or how close they lived to the church, but I know they were there.

I still believe plat maps make great illustrations of what our ancestral villages looked like, especially when comparing them to what they look like today.  But seek to validate any surnames you may find on them...or don't find on them...with other sources.

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