Ever wonder what it would be like to walk down the streets of your ancestors’ hometown as it was when they lived there? Well, now you can — virtually — with the 1870 Beers County Atlas CD Collection of Massachusetts.
During the late 19th century, Frederick W. Beers published amazingly detailed maps of New York, Pennsylvania and New England counties and towns. Showing schools, churches, cemeteries, streets and topographical features, these atlases are a genealogist’s dream.
But in the past, access to the atlases has been limited, in part because complete copies are rare. Thanks to a project conceived by Theresa Percy, director of the Monson Free Library in Monson, Mass., however, the old Massachusetts atlases are being digitized in their entirety and placed on CD-ROM by Piper Publishing.
So far, atlases for five Massachusetts counties — Hampden, Worcester, Franklin, Berkshire and Essex — are available, with more being added as missing pages from the original atlases are found. Piper Publishing’s Kathy Rubin says several pages have been stolen over the years, particularly from the Boston atlases, so the task is difficult. Many of the atlases also have been broken apart and sold piecemeal. Still, plans for digitizing Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware and New York counties are being considered.
Each volume depicts businesses and homes, all carefully labeled with the owners’ names. Depending on the atlas, you also can find statistical information, engravings, town histories and biographies of prominent citizens.
The images cover a full computer screen and can be enlarged up to 160 percent of their original size without loss of sharpness. The maps’ clarity and detail are exceptional. On the Hampden County CD, you can see businesses, residences, streams, railroad tracks and other topographical features plainly marked.
You can download and print images up to 8½×11 inches. The easiest way to print a highly magnified image of your ancestor’s dwelling is to center the image on the screen, click Print Screen, and then paste into your word processor or image-editing software. The detailed image files are extremely large, so they might take time to load or print.
Some of the atlases include a business directory, which is a kick to scroll through just to get an idea of the merchants your family purchased from — or for information about your own merchant ancestor. Each listing includes the name and address of the business, as well as a brief description — similar to a display ad in the yellow pages. It was interesting to note that Springfield had five fish and oyster dealers, 10 banks, one artist, and a dozen saloons and liquor dealers!