Maps: Visually Representing your Family History


Maps can add a new dimension to helping you find out more about your family history. According to,

“No other source of information will be as helpful as maps when building your family’s history.”

I have ancestors that settled in what is now West Virginia in the 1800s. For those of you that are not history buffs (which I am not), West Virginia was originally just the western part of the state of Virginia. During the Civil War, Virginia was a confederate state, western Virginia succeeded from Virginia, became their own state of West Virginia and joined the Union side. This example illustrates how family history research will force you to learn more about history to understand your ancestors lives. I will discuss that fact in a later blog. Because of this change in boundaries and state names, it makes it difficult to always know what geographical setup goes with the timeframe you are researching. For example, your relatives may have been born in Acme County, Virginia in 1850, but today that same physical location is in Acme County, West Virginia. So, when requesting your ancestors records you would need to write to Acme County, West Virginia not Acme County, Virginia. And in some cases the new State changed the original county name and/or boundaries, so it can get a little frustrating. Goods news though, there are many on-line resources available to help with your family history map work. Below I discuss a couple. A. At a section is dedicated to maps and their ties with family history researching:

“…maps allow you to make sense of the lineage of your family members. This tool is a great asset to help you to see the “big picture” when it comes to your family tree.”

This site lists 19 helpful links for further map and map related research as related to genealogy (NOTE: goto this link to the 19 individual links):

  1. U.S. Geological Surveys
  2.  Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
  3.  Maps Can Help You Trace Your Family Tree
  4.  Odden’s Bookmarks: the Fascinating World of Maps and Mapping
  5.  The Perry-Castade Library Map Collection
  6.  U.S. Gazetter
  7.  British Columbia Archives and Records Service
  8.  Cartographic Records Pilot Project
  9.  Direct Line Software
  10.  Land Resource Reference
  11.  Research Directory
  12.  Deed Data Pool
  13.  City Gallery
  14.  Heritage Map Museum
  15.  Your Past Connections
  16.  Genmaps Home Page
  17.  Dead Fred
  18.  Family History Collections
  19.  RetouchPRO

B. Another excellent resource and article is at, “Historical Atlases and Maps of U.S. and States”. Below is an excerpt of some of their main points:

“When it comes to researching your family tree, maps are just pieces of the puzzle. However, they are a significant piece, and focused study can reveal fascinating information.” Map Comparison as A Genealogy Source Comparing older maps to newer maps of the same area can often yield information about changes in names of different towns and places over time. Such comparisons can also show changes in borders between countries, counties, towns, and other political borders. However, landowners are not often listed on maps. In the United States, property records, death records, and birth records are usually maintained by county officials. Therefore, researchers will need to be able to locate the proper county offices to find information on their ancestors. This is why it helps to determine exactly where the ancestor lived according to the political borders of the time.”

Finally with these searches you can also find cool interactive maps such as this one below that shows overtime how the U.S. was formed with territories, boundaries and states. It includes the historical aspect to help ground yourself in the formation timeline. So, when researching your family history do not overlook maps. Afterall, if ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’; a map could cover millions.


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