can maps help?
are made for many reasons, and as a result, vary in content.
Some maps made for general purposes may show roads, towns and
cities, rivers and lakes, parks, and State and local boundaries.
New and old maps often reveal changing place names, and they may
also show changes in the boundaries of nations and their
subdivisions. They rarely name individual landowners or
In the United States, birth, death, property, and some other
kinds of records are normally kept by county governments. If you
can name the place where a kin lived, new or old maps of that
place may also show the county seat where useful data about your
kin may be obtained. Searches for data about an ancestor are
often complicated by changes in the names and boundaries of
places. GNIS The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
is the Nation's official data base for place names. GNIS is
maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey and can often provide
information on name changes. This data base contains two million
entries. They include the names of places that no longer exist
as well as other or secondary names for existing places.
This automated system also contains the names of every type of
feature except roads and highways. It is especially useful for
genealogical research because it contains entries for very small
and scattered communities as well as churches and cemeteries,
including entries for those that no longer exist.
Complete listings or special searches, for example, for churches
in a particular county, are available in high-quality bound
listings or on magnetic media. There is a nominal charge for
The boundaries of many political jurisdictions where early
Americans lived have changed one or more times. some American
families lived in the same locale for hundreds of years. Yet,
the name of the place may have changed over time. Many counties
have been subdivided several times, but family records were most
often kept where they were originally filed.
This can greatly complicate your work. In one case, for example,
the place where a family lived for the entire 19th century was
over time part of seven different counties. In such a case, you
might have to query all seven courthouses to obtain data needed
about members of the family. Copies of records are rarely
acquired by a succeeding county.
Similar, but even more complex problems arise when you must
search for personal records in the archives of faraway lands.
The names and boundaries of countries seem to be forever in flux
and many public and private record centers disappear or move
from place to place.
places are hard to find. . . . Some
have changed names one or more times. Some are too small to be
shown on a map or noted in a gazetteer. And some are now ghost
towns. Some of these places may be noted on an old map. The
location of some others may be found in such sources as lists of
abandoned post offices, local histories, government records,
microfilm records or clippings from old newspapers, old city
directories, or old county atlases kept in the library or
archives of a town, city, or county in the region.
If you know the ward, district, neighborhood, or street of a
city where an ancestor lived, an old map used in conjunction
with a new map of the city may expedite your search for needed
Books that show changes in county boundaries can help locate
likely sources of records about relatives.
A librarian near where you live may be able to suggest someone
who has access to such sources as Map Guide to the US Federal
Census, 1790-1920: Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore,
This 445-page book shows all U.S. county boundaries from 1790 to
1920. On each of nearly 400 maps, old county lines are
superimposed over modern ones to highlight boundary changes at
10 year intervals.
Separate books or papers have been published about the
"genealogy" of each of a large number of States,
counties, and other areas.
It will be worthwhile to gain access to modern and old maps of
each ancestral site. You should try to find an old map that
shows an area as it was close to the time your ancestor lived
National Gazetteer of the United States of America, Concise
1990, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1200-US: U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, 1990. Directories of
map collections Many libraries have the current edition of
The Map Catalog: Vantage Press, a division of Random House, New
This handbook describes features and sources of a worldwide
range of new and old maps, atlases, and related products. Has
sections on researching old maps, history maps, maps of the
United States and of foreign countries, State and provincial
maps, county maps, urban maps and city plans, boundary maps,
census maps, railroad maps, topographic maps, and many other
kinds of maps.
Map Collection in the United States and Canada: A Directory:
Special Libraries Association, New York, 1984, 4th ed.
Guide to U.S. Map Resources, 2nd Edition: American Library
Association, Chicago, 1990.
Courtesy: U. S. Geological Survey
here for more information
using maps in genealogical research
Types of Maps
A collection of maps in book form.
Fire Insurance Maps One of the
most valuable sources for monitoring and viewing urban change
are the fire insurance maps published in the nineteenth century.
These maps were drawn at the scale of 1 inch = 50 ft (later 1
inch =100 ft) which allowed very specific types of detail to be
shown. For example, street width, building dimensions, the type
of construction (frame, brick, stone), number of floors, roof
composition, windows, elevators, wall construction, and street
address are all shown. The fire insurance surveyors mapped the
built-up area, central business district, and surrounding
residential blocks for over 12,000 towns and cities nationwide
by the 1950's. Their publication for urban areas continues
today, and it is reported that every town in the United States
with a population of 2,000 (in 1950) has been mapped.
Gazetteers give the location (longitude and latitude, country,
state, provience, etc.) of populated places and natural
features. Some descriptive gazetteers also provide information
about the population, economy, history, and industry of a given
Maps Topographic maps display
relief features, water features, and cultural features. Large
scale topographic maps, such as 1:24,000 scale maps are
especially useful for areas where detailed information is
needed. These maps will show detailed terrain and water
features, major roads and power lines, cultural features such as
schools, churches, cemeteries, dams, campsites, and mines.
Maps Thematic maps depict the
distribution of a single attribute or the relationship among
several. They cover such subjects as transportation and
communication, political and historical geography, human and
cultural geography, vegetation, water resources, agriculture,
land use, public works, and regional or city planning maps.
Photography & Satellite Imagery
Aerial Photography and satellite imagery refer to images taken,
vertical or oblique, from an aircraft or orbiting satellite.
Maps Road maps show people how
they can travel from one place to another. They also show some
physical features, such as mountains and rivers, and political
features, such as cities and towns. A road map also shows
which roads are main highways and which are smaller country
Maps Drawing of a
parcel of land--can include the name of the legal owner and the
& Aids for Maps, Deeds, & Land Records