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Research: Tales From the Atlas (#3)

Yates Past - December 2006

The McAlpine farm as it appeared in the 1876 Atlas
andin a photo from 1892.

We have been running a series of articles based on drawings and other features of The New Historical Atlas of Yates County New York Illustrated by Everts, Ensign, and Everts originally published in 1876. That included two articles submitted by members: the first on a farm owned by the Pulver family in the Town of Italy written by Nancy Gillette and the second on the house at the base of the falls in Glenora written by Polly Smith. We would like to ask any of you reading this to submit similar “tales”. There are many of us out there who have ties to the people who are mentioned in the Atlas or the businesses, residences, and farms which are illustrated.... even a name on a piece of property. You could tell the story of the people, the place, or even about how you used the Atlas to further your knowledge of your family history or local history in general. We could use them in our newsletter and, if we receive enough of them, combine them into a companion publication to go with the Atlas. If you feel comfortable writing the article yourself, that would be great! If not, send us the information and someone here will write it up. Send it to us by email, traditional mail, or just drop it off at the Underwood House. This is a chance for YOU to help us enhance and preserve important pieces of Yates County’s history.

The reprints of the Atlas that we ordered came in around Christmas and they are just beautiful. The reprints were made from high resolution scans of the pages from the original Atlas. They can be seen (and purchased) at the Underwood Museum on Chapel Street in Penn Yan or you could use the order blank found elsewhere in this newsletter.

If you have never seen the Atlas, one of the great features for people researching family history in our county is that there is a separate map for each of the nine townships in Yates County (as well as each village or hamlet). On each map are the names of the property owners at the time the Atlas was originally done with the exact location of their property. If the property is a farm, the Atlas also includes the acreage.

When I was researching my own family in the Town of Starkey, that feature proved to be especially helpful. There was an old photo of the McAlpine farm house that had been passed down to me over the years. I wondered if the house was still standing. My father, who might have known the exact location of the farm, passed away back in the 1970s. I asked my mother if he had ever pointed out the location of the old farm and he had. She and I took a ride one day in the southern part of Starkey to see if we could find it. We were on South Glenora Road and she pointed to an area in the woods that my father had pointed out to her years ago. I was disappointed as the house was apparently no longer standing. Then I ran across the historical Atlas. Since I had several family branches to research in the county, I bought one of the reprints that was available in the early 1990s and went over it with a magnifying glass. In Starkey, the other side of Big Stream from where my mother and I had been earlier, was the farm shown on the accompanying portion of the map. I compared it to a modern day highway map of Yates County and saw that today the road is called Beartown Road. I took another ride down that way and there was the house in the photo looking very much like it did 100 years earlier. What my mother and father remembered was a family farm which was bought in 1912.... 36 years after the Atlas was made.

To complete the story.... I drove past that house a number of times, usually very slowly. I took a few photos to compare to the old photo from the 1890s. One day I noticed a car outside so I decided to knock on the door, introduce myself, and explain why I was taking photos. The lady of the house answered the door. She had an interest in family and local history herself, so she understood right away what I was doing. Graciously, she gave me a tour of the house and passed along some anecdotes that had been passed down through her family relating to the McAlpines who lived there (my great great grandparents). Before I left, she had her teenage son “guide” me down an old farm road to Big Stream, where there was an area for picnics used over the years by my family as well as the current family. It was a memorable experience for which I am very thankful. It gave me a much greater understanding of my family history in Starkey. The Atlas was the key that unlocked that door.

by Rich MacAlpine

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