Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Using Maps in Your Genealogical Research

Have you been using maps in your genealogical research? Hopefully, your answer was a resounding "Yes!" If it wasn't, it will be after you read this blog!

One of the most basic uses of maps is to show the location of a place in relationship to other places. For example, most Americans' knowledge of English geography is limited, so when saying that my TAGG ancestors emigrated from Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, I include a map that shows Kettering's distance from and location in relationship to London, England.

A map like this one gives relative distance to other major cities and general location within the country. From this we learn that Kettering is not on the coast and not very near London.

Maps showing boundary changes.

Another important use of maps is to show boundary changes. The above map shows some of the major boundary changes in 20th century Europe. You have to know what the place was called and who ruled it to find the records of your ancestors. Last fall, we learned that many of the Slovakia records from the 1800's are in Hungarian, because that is who ruled the area for most of that century.

Boundary Changes for Medina County 1800-1840

1810 Medina County exists but is
administered by Portage County
1800 Medina County doesn't exist

1820 - Medina is very rectangular!
Starting 1818, they administered themselves
1830 - Medina County lost western land to
newly formed Lorain County

1840 - Medina lost eastern lands to
newly formed Summit County.

Above image excerpts taken from Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide. Keep boundary changes in mind when looking for family records.

Maps can help illustrate how our ancestors moved from one place to another. I used a modified version of the map below to show how my TAGG ancestors got from the piers of New York Harbor, to Rootstown, Portage County, Ohio via the canal systems of the 1830's. Such visual aids helps us to understand the hardships they might have encountered on the way as well as when we find a couple's children born in multiple states, along the migration route.

From the FamilySearch website:

Maps can also show how an area changes over time. Just think about the changes in streets and housing developments you have witnessed in your lifetime.

 A local example is the creation of Reagan Parkway, linking Route 3 on the northeast of the city, with Marks Road on the northwest. 30 years ago, this street didn't exist. The Elsie Northrup school didn't exist. Jefferson Street did not extend to Stonegate Drive, which also didn't exist.

How many of you remember when the area that is the KMart Plaza was just open fields?  All of these changes would be reflected in maps of the area.

1981 Map for Medina. Location of Reagan Parkway is marked in red dashes
Notice how little development is in the area

2009 Map of Medina with Reagan Parkway highlighted in yellow.
Look at all the development!!

Topographical maps show landscape features and can explain ancestor's behaviors and occupation. If an ancestor lived near a major river, it is understandable if he appears as a stevedore in the census records.

This detail of a tropographic map of Gallia County, Ohio, shows the hilly terrain where my ancestors had farms. With this information, I understand why their farms emphasized cattle and sheep and not grain farms. The creek running left to right in the middle of the picture is called Williams Creek after my 3X great grandfather, John Williams.

This detail from the 1885 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps shows the intersection of Washington and Broadway in the city of Medina. Notice the "dwelling" at the corner. These maps can show how close different structures and often show materials used, for the purposes of insurance...

Notice in this detail from the 1932-1940 Fire Insurance Maps, that now, the Franklin Sylvester Library occupies that spot.

If your ancestor participated in military engagements, maps illustrate their involvment in time periods lacking any photographic evidence.

This map shows Fort Montgomery, New York. My ancestor Christian Young served here during the Revolutionary War. He helped construct the Chevron-de-Frise, shown as "chain" in the map, across the Hudson River. It was a failed attempt to keep the British from sailing up the Hudson. The American forces, holding Ft. Montgomery were attacked by the British, simultaneously from ships in the Hudson and nearby Fort Clinton. The Americans escaped on foot across the rough terrain into the nearby woods.

Plat maps and atlases can show land ownership. County atlases, directories and plat maps can show land ownership, as does this example for a 1991 Plat Map of Medina.
Plat maps show land ownership. Also listed here is the acreage of each portion of land.

Do you have any research stories of how maps solved a family mystery for you?

Please share below.

References and more information:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful tour of Medina through the maps. How it has changed. I remember, not really that long ago, when Wendy's was the northern edge of the city.