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Maps and Family History

Spent yesterday afternoon deep in the bowels of the U. of Chicago map archive, something like 400,000 maps total, with an emphasis on urban maps. I've loved maps since I was a wee child, and drawing my own was always part of the fun of designing worlds, cities, or adventures. Handling part of the U. of C's archive was amazing.

The researcher, Chris Winters, had thoughtfully pulled a bunch of material ahead of time, but it still took hours to examine, choose, scan, and copy. My aunt spent time looking at some Ontario and Toronto maps back to 1840. Shelly dug up various European cities from the Middle Ages to the Reformation. I wrote the opening for my short story, maybe 100 words or so.

My father told some stories about his childhood home, Gdynia, the Polish port city that was built in 1925 as a response to a German embargo of the port of Danzig. He remembered where his school was, the fields he played in, the railyards, the street names (in Polish and German), the forested hills, the area where my grandfather was captured by the Nazis, and which pier the ships docked at that finally took my grandparents, my father, and my aunt away from Gdynia.

I'd never really been able to picture Gdynia before, and now I can. We made a copy of that map as well as all the others, but it's the stories that I'll remember.

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