I have been reading about Punxsutawney Phil for fifty years including articles in my Weekly Reader, an important well known source of news. Wikipedia lists his surname as Sowerby but that is uncorroborated. I have never checked a map from Pennsylvania to see where it was that his hibernation spot existed. Yes, I have seen the movie Groundhog Day, but that doesn’t get to the geography question. Genealogists know that in order to find the records, we need maps. Other than Atlases, researchers used to need a library to get the nitty gritty details available on maps. Now, the Internet has dozens of maps on any subject at your fingertips. No excuse not to have the political subdivision maps, topo maps, and landownership maps in your head and on the computer when you start researching in a new area.
Maps Are the Answer
Here is map with the county outline delineated, central western Pennsylvania right on Interstate 80.
This map which shows the boundaries of Jefferson Co., Pennsylvania doesn’t actually identify it as Jefferson Co. Last month doing some research in Jefferson Co., Pennsylvania, I saw Punxsutawney was there and smiled. What a great name, probably Native American. Without the county, a genealogist has very little to go on, what census, what clerk of courts, what recorder, etc. Sure Louisiana has parishes, many records in New England are kept on a town level and Virginia has Independent Cities interspersed with its counties, but by and large most states’ governmental records are first sorted into counties.
Some states further divided each county into townships and within those townships sometimes villages, towns, and cities. It might be important to get a land map of the area to see where the Sowerby property is. Does Phil’s family still own it? Did he remember to pay taxes or did he establish a 501? If the NFL can get by without paying taxes, certainly, Punxsutawney Phil could also incorporate. Given this groundhog’s accuracy ratings, a bit higher than a third right, it may not be important at all.
The USGS Topographical Map for the Punxsutawney Quadrangle in Pennsylvania shows the spot of elevation known as Gobbler’s Knob. The highlighting is mine.
Finally, my favorite kind of map, a land ownership map.
This type of map was made for various counties in various states roughly between 1870 and 1890. Look for them. The ones in color are nice enough to frame.
An aside: Wouldn’t it be a huge help newswise, if stories from all around the United States also included the name of the county concerned, since that’s how genealogists remember their geography?