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About Boston Streets


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Boston Streets: Mapping Directory Data combines two very different access tools. One, the Tufts Digital Library (TDL) is a fairly straightforward library system, although one that allows you to search full-text as well as metadata of its content. Nevertheless its style of text-based searching is more commonly understood: you type in a serch term and you get a result list back. The other, Cowpaths, is something new and different, even for those of you who are familiar with GIS-based tools.
Each tool has its own strenghths, and unfortunately its own weaknesses as well. To complicate matters further, the data in each system, while similar, is not always exactly the same. This help section will give you an overview of the "features" of the two systems so that you will be able to use both effectively.
Cowpaths also has a Cowpaths specific help area that serves as a primer on how to use it.

Data modeling, regularization, and searching in the TDL and Cowpaths

The city directories exist in two forms, one as text documents in the TDL and the other as searchable "layers" in the Cowpaths geospatial access tool.

The directories in the TDL most closely reflect the original paper documents and the printing and publication decisions made at the time of original printing. No attempt has been made to regularize or cross reference variations in spelling, abbreviation, or punctuation. Thus, a search for cigarmaker will yield only those people listed with the occupation "cigarmaker" and not those listed with the occupation: "cigarmaking." A business of "cigarmakers" would also be overlooked Often these variations would exist within a single directory. The TDL recognizes some Boolean-like search symbols, allowing the user to insert a "*" into a query to broaden the range of searching. For example, "cigarmak*" will return both "cigarmaker" and "cigarmakers" but not "cigar maker." Cowpaths does not support "*" at this time.

It is best to be thorough, flexible and broad-minded when using the search features in both the TDL and Cowpaths, as the content in Boston Streets is naturally as irregular as the city's roadways.

Search Strategies: Finding people

No attempt has been made to fully regularize names in either Cowpaths or the TDL. Names of persons have been formatted in embedded xml tags to follow the common format of "Last name, First name Middle name/initial Title."

Corrections in spelling have been made only when they have been verified to be errors inserted during the data conversion process, as has the re-ordering of entries. Most of the time the directories are presented as the text appears on the printed page, excluding column divisions and page breaks.

The directories have been subdivided beyond the letter level to surname or organizational name level. This allows for all like entries to be grouped together. In an effort to save space, the printers often resorted to sometimes arcane abbreviations. William Goodnow is listed in the 1855 directory as: Goodnow, Wm. D., not in itself unusual, except that if you search for "William Goodnow" you would not find him. If you have difficulty finding a particular person, try repeating your search using a surname only. This will still point you to surname subsections of the directories

Finding places

The only place where a significant attempt at regularization was made is in the addresses. Directory entries with abbreviations for street names were regularized for the Cowpaths tool. An automated process was used to change "Washington st." or "Wash'ton st" to "Washington Street" wherever possible. Unfortunately, the variety and number of abbrieviations for any particular street name was too great to insure that every instance of that street was regularized for Cowpaths. Nevertheless, a significant number of addresses and street names were regularized to the point where they could be linked to a street or place on the map.