Mapping Our Ancestors (part 2): You’ll need to have strong circumstantial evidence concerning the time period and possible location of ancestors to find the most helpful maps. The three main elements to look for in locating these maps are 1) ones that show detailed information about the specific area where the family might have lived, then 2) that place the area in perspective to the surrounding area (i.e. individual county district or county and 3) that will show the border outline and identify the areas beyond in all directions. Depending on the region, Plat Books are a valuable resource in pinpointing the family lands. In 1879, the USGS then new library began collecting its holding of topographic and many other kinds of maps of the United States and its territories.
The individual map features can tell a lot about the way an area may have been settled, how travel to the area may have taken place and the difficulty in entering the region such as mountains and rivers for example would offer. Once possible locations are determined, a visit to the library and local or state archives would be in order to check for atlases, gazetteers and other sources that pertain to those locations of interest. An excellent resource is the Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790 -1920. The book shows all of the various county boundaries for each state from 1790 to 1920. The old county lines are superimposed over modern ones to highlight boundary changes for each 10-year interval. Another valuable source is the Map Catalog published by Random House in 1990. The publication contains a vast amount of information draw from a worldwide range of current as well as older maps, atlases, etc. Map research described in the work ranges from large areas such as country and regional maps all the way down to local city, railroad, topographic and various detailed smaller maps.
The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress maintains a tremendous collection of almost 4 million maps, 51,000 atlases and over 8,000 reference works. Their holdings are indexed by card and book catalogs instead of a single catalog. The atlas collection alone covers publications created within the last 500 years from printers around the world. Genealogical interest is especially drawn to a source entitled Land Ownership Maps: A Checklist of Nineteenth Century United States County Maps in the Library of Congress, published in 1967. Also of importance are the over 700,000 large-scale Sanborn fire insurance maps. The company has worked on publishing and updating these maps since 1867.
In conclusion, here are some basic tips for using maps in locating ancestors. Look for any directories or pamplets that will offer guidance to the appropriate map collection for your research. When sending for information, give as much information about the map(s) needed as far as location, where, when and by publisher name, if available. Be sure to state what is needed from the map(s) and the area covered. This will greatly aid the map researcher in locating the proper map(s) to fulfill a request.
Fact: Earth Science Information Centers can be found in the following locations: Anchorage, AK; Denver, CO; Menlo Park, CA; Reston, VA; Rolla, MO; and Sioux Falls, SD.
Tip: The USGS maintains more than 55,000 updated topographic maps that cover practically all local areas of the US and Territories. These are highly detailed maps with names and features located within a certain area. Maps of particular counties are also available in two scales: 1:50,000 and 1:100,000.
You can contact the USGS for its Index to Topographic and Other Map Coverage and [State] Catalog of Topographic and other Published Maps [all scales] at the Earth Science Information Center or by calling 1-888-ASK-USGS.
October is Family History Month. Here’s some food for thought . . .
"To understand a nation, one must first understand its history. The history is more than the laws and dates of major events. History lies in the daily life of the people for it is the people who make a nation. To ignore the lives of those who have gone before us is to negate their ideas, dreams and accomplishments. It robs us of the warp in the fabric of our own lives. And, each person's life is a thread woven into the tapestry that is that nation." - Author unknown.
Editor’s Note: If you recognize the source of this quote, please email the Editor at the address below so that proper credit may be given.