It is amazing what you can find online these days.
I remember one of the first sites I went when the Internet was young was the USGS to look at maps. This was prior to Google Maps and you had to find the correct Quad maps from their less-than-perfect search system. This was amazing, and the USGS still creates amazing maps (many which are free digital downloads):
Then there is Google Maps, which is wondrous by itself: an almost complete map of the world along with aerial views. Not to sound old, but even 10 years ago this was unheard of. For example, below is the 2000 Mean Center of Population in Google Maps:
But it goes beyond just Google Maps.
In the United States, most property-related matters are handled at the County level, a very Jeffersonian adventure in bookkeeping.
Out of 25 centers of population, I was able to find the owners and mailing addresses for all but five of the properties – an astounding 80% success rate; all from the comfort of my computer. Many counties have full GIS which make finding the location’s owner very easy – sometimes all you need is the Lat/Lon, sometimes you have to find landmarks and orienteer to the proper parcel. Below is an example of a particularly nice GIS view from a county in Indiana – every Indiana county I needed to research were using one of two systems, a state mandate to digitize property and parcel information must be in effect. You can see an example below, I edited out the sensitive items (you can find this on your own if you want):
In the end all of this data is essential for this project. The whole reason I went through this is to send letters to each property holder in order to gain legal access to their property so I can photograph the Lamp at the center of population. By my reckoning, none of the 24 population centers are on public land (while some might be in public forests, which makes entering that land ambiguous) so gaining permission to photograph is important.
So now I get to write a letter that says, “Hi, I’m a stranger from New York, I have this funny lamp, and I want to come on our property to film and photograph it.”
Not strange at all. Just another step in a slightly strange art project.