Geography dictates to historical events. Cross-roads, border towns, mountain ranges, natural resources—all are factors that shape the evolution of societies.
I have never been able to visualize a sequence of events without drawing a map. Every place I visit, whether physical or virtual, I am not comfortable without an orientation. So, I had to turn this obsession into a professional attribute, and have thus been drawing maps for real estate or hospitality clients for years. And, more recently, I have been creating them for genealogy.
Anyone can get a map out of a multitude of computer programs. The magic comes into them when they can simply portray just the essentials of a certain time. They can freeze pivotal moments to help communicate their development. They can capture a decision or an action that ripples throughout a community—such as the spread of printing, and thus literacy.
My collection of originals is growing. I particularly enjoy mapping how time affects an area, such as the growth of communities. I have portrayed Milwaukee from its three separate towns until 1888. I have captured the north side of Chicago in 1929, just as the Great Depression began its ripple effect. And I have drawn migration maps of ancestors in Germany, Belgium, France, and Switzerland.
Recent examples of how my various approaches are applied include:
“Proximity and Progress: Surname Origins” uses a master Germany map that I have created. As a blank, I can easily update or change the featured locations. This one expresses the search for Sebastian. Most of the other branches share histories with many relatives, left a lot of bread crumbs, and produced a strong group of immigrants. But with Sebastian specifically, the footprints are very light in the snow. The earliest provable appearance so far was in 1635, Baden. I created it for my family reunion notebook, gift to the relatives.
“Immigration Map 1840-1860” was fun to do at the time, but now has proven itself incorrect. The time periods are correct, the destinations correct, but the starting points were based on American family casual recollections and messy records. This is basically what I knew for years. But, with the new access to European data, two of the sources are wrong: Darmstadt should be Heuchelheim and Bruschsal should be Oberöwisheim. But, it is a similar graphic look anyway. I am currently working on an extended family version—following my fascination with pioneers.
“Eras of Evolution in One Neighborhood” is part of the local history series. Through various projects, I now have a base map of Evanston that shows its grip; this is one small piece. Taking the map to the level of individual buildings allows a progression to be clear without animation. Every time I consider converting this approach to a layered animation, done so well on many map sites, I hesitate. Something else is gained by viewing the story comparatively, side by side. This neighborhood began as a forrest, with a trail down the top of a ridge. Pioneer farmers, including my uncles, bought land and cleared it for farming. A few years later, the railroad came through and thus begins this illustration sequence. Soon streets were laid, and it was gobbled up into the town.
“The Thirty Years War Reset” Few advancements are made without conflict. But few conflicts are as devastating as the Thirty Years War in central Europe. Its impact even continues today in history, architecture, social structure, and genealogy. When researching my family origins, I discovered how much the conflict changed their lives and what it meant to be a survivor. Certainly with the rise of printing and literacy, the records became more consistent. Though the upheavals of war, famine, and disease often edited out many portions of the population, they managed to keep a thread of consistency.
For many years, I have collected maps, drawings, and etchings from the past. Fascinated by the pre-photography representation, while compiling a presentation for a family gift, I discover I have a files of images no one else has. And, I love to compile and illustrate historic situations. The most frustrating part of my family work was the absence of good maps. Most fall in the realm of too much or too little information. So, I created my own that express the German villages of my ancestors.
Now I provide customized images to a variety of customers, including the U.S. and Europe. Always excited to learn more about other places and times, I work within a variety of parameters. Please enjoy this glimpse into possibilities.
—Always inspired, Liane
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Liane Sebastian wears an artist’s hat, designer’s coat, and editor’s shoes.