Like most resources, maps were created for a different purpose but as genealogists, we utilize them to help put our people in their geographic context.
There are many resources on maps and how they interact with our ancestors. Workshops on land resources and plotting maps can last for weeks and for some people, this is their genealogical niche. But for the majority of us, we just need to know enough to find the places where our ancestors walked. Since there is a great deal out there on these resources, I figure I would use the topic as a way to connecting you to a few of them.
And it all begins with an address or location. There are quite a few resources that will provide you with the address/location. You are one of them. I’m sure you could probably find an old address book and find addresses of some of your peeps. You can also take a trip down memory lane and remember all of the addresses where you and your family lived.
Additionally, you can look at some of the documents we commonly use for our research including birth certificates, death certificates, applications, i.e. social security app, marriage license app, and military records. Then there’s the census records and city directories.
City directories are great resources, especially if you wanted to find where a person lived and their neighbors. I’ve been successful in finding a number of relatives in the city directories but that’s only because my family lived in a big city. Most rural areas didn’t have them but that’s doesn’t mean you don’t look for them. The Allen County Public Library has a room filled with city directories. Its amazing to see. City directories are online in a variety of places, including Ancestry.com (the paid subscription version for sure but I’m not sure about the Library Edition) and other places including the Internet Archive and Miriam Robbins‘ site.
Now that you have the address, now you can use resources like MapQuest and Google Maps to map it. Google Maps is fabulous because it gives you a street level view of the address, meaning you get to see what’s at that address now or when Google’s car took the picture. The searching feature in this resource is great. You can search by the name of something, look at businesses and landmarks nearby and you can even search by longitude and latitude (you will see why I mention this later)
But what about older addresses, you ask? For those you may want to still look at Google Maps but maps that can be found at county history centers, historical societies, state archives and federal archives can be used. Additionally, there are a few resources that will help those trying to find ancestors during the time with counties were being formed. There are two books that address this.
The Map to the U. S. Federal Censuses 1790 – 1930 provide a map of the states for each census year and their counties.
Another book, specific to Georgia is, Georgia Counties, Their Changing Boundaries. Copyrighted in 1983, changing boundaries include information on the county creations, an index to county line disputes and a list of the counties showing which have headright grants, land lottery grants or both.
Another Georgia resource is the Digital Library of Georgia. This resource has several collections of maps in its Land and Resources category. There is the County Maps, District Plats of Survey, and the Sanborn Fire Maps.
But what happens if the place you are looking for no longer exists? Try GNIS.
The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, contains information about physical and cultural geographic features in the United States and associated areas, both current and historical (not including roads and highways). The database holds the Federally recognized name of each feature and defines the location of the feature by state, county, USGS topographic map, and geographic coordinates.(source: http://nhd.usgs.gov/gnis.html)
The link to search is somewhat hidden so here’s a direct link – http://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=gnispq. You can use the resource to find all of a specific institution or landmark, i.e. cemeteries, in a particular state and/or county. Once you pull the record up, you can copy the longitude and latitude and pull that information into Google maps to pull up the map to see where it was/is located.
So that’s about it. I hope this post was helpful for those interested in using maps with their genealogy research. I know you really can’t talk about maps and boundaries without talking about land resources so here’s a link to the Land Records section of the Source on the Ancestry.com wiki. Now I can say that I covered it. ;-).
Thanks for reading and happy hunting!